A Nashville Predators playoff run that began with great promise ended Monday night largely due to offensive failures. The Coyotes eliminated the Predators 2-1, wrapping the series in five games. The Predators were held scoreless for five of their last six periods. Only Colin Wilson’s redirected goal off a David Legwand shot with 5:59 remaining saved the Predators from back-to back shutouts. The Predators tried furiously to get the tying goal in the remaining minutes, but were unable to beat Coyotes’ goalie Mike Smith, who easily qualified as Phoenix’s (and the series) Most Valuable Player.
Nashville had nearly twice as many shots on goal (33) as Phoenix (17), yet only scored once. Over the first two periods the advantage was 22-12, yet they trailed 2-0. Both Phoenix goals came in the second period. The fi rst was on a long slap shot from Derek Morris that seemed to handcuff Predators’ goalie Pekka Rinne. The second came after the Predators missed some great chances to tie the score. A Patric Hornqvist turnover led to a Phoenix rush, and Martin Hanzal’s wrist shot made it 2-0.
Considering that the Predators at that point hadn’t scored in five periods, their chances of scoring twice in one were slim. They at least finally solved Smith, but there was so little time remaining they couldn’t mount the necessary pressure to take the game into overtime.
After the two teams combined for 15 goals in the first two games (both won by Phoenix). Nashville returned to the tight checking, defensive mode that’s long been their style. Their 2-0 Game 3 win was predicated on getting ahead early, then shutting down the Coyote attack.
Unfortunately, that was the only time in the series they had the lead. Phoenix scored first in all four wins, and in the early games they usually had at least a two goal lead much of the time. The Predators managed to come back and tie the first game, then lost in overtime. That set the series tone, as Nashville was always trying to rally.
The debacle involving Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn certainly didn’t help matters. Radulov was Nashville’s leading scorer and Kostisyn had two goals when the two opted to disobey team rules after the game 2 loss. Whatever they did (and the rumor is they violated a team curfew) it posed a huge distraction to a team already in an 0-2 hole.
Coach Barry Trotz improvised for the third game, and the Predators played their best hockey of the series. But in the critical fourth game, when Nashville needed a home victory to even things, they couldn’t score despite numerous good chances. There are critics savaging Trotz for keeping Radulov and Kostitsyn on the bench throughout game 4. His defense of that action was the players he had in their place did well in the third game and not so well in the fourth.
Radulov and Kostitsyn returned to action Monday night, but neither scored. Shea Weber had a rocket go off the post in the second period. The Predators again had too many turnovers, but Phoenix helped out Smith far more than the Predators did Rinne.
The few times Smith was caught out of position or failed to hold a rebound, Phoenix players found ways to deflect passes or tip away shots. While Predators’ like Martin Erat, Shea Weber and David Legwand played solid both offensively and defensively, many others were disappointments.
Sergei Kostitsyn was demoted from the fi rst to the third line for the fi nal game, after managing just two points through the first nine games of the Detroit and Phoenix series’. Colin Wilson, who didn’t log a single minute of ice time against Detroit, took his place and managed Nashville’s lone goal.
Decisions on several players’ future, among them Weber, Ryan Suter, Radulov, Andrei Kostitsyn, Hal Gill and Paul Gaustad must be made in the coming days. Only Weber is a restricted free agent. The rest can leave without Nashville getting compensation.
The Predators’ glowing five-game defeat of longtime nemesis Detroit ranks as the season’s high point. Monday’s night Phoenix triumph marks both the lowlight and the end of another good, but ultimately disappointing, year.
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