Preds find themselves, make it a series…
The Nashville Predators defeated the Phoenix Coyotes in game 3 of the Western Conference Semi Finals (Phoenix leads 2-1) 2-0 at a sold out Bridgestone Arena on a 32 save shutout performance by Goaltender Pekka Rinne. This was the 1st playoff shutout in the career of Rinne & only the 2nd in franchise history (Vokoun 04).
Nashville came out strong to start the game with Jordin Tootoo & Matt Halischuk taking the place of suspended forwards Alexander Radulov & Andrei Kostitsyn. From the opening puck drop, it was clear Nashville intended to play a much stronger defensive game with plenty of puck support on the entire rink.
The 1st team to blink was Phoenix when outstanding puck handling Goalie Mike Smith was pressured behind the net & had a sloppy clearing attempt that was cut off on the boards by Preds F Gabriel Bourque. The pesky rookie then fed David Legwand in the slot who paused for just enough time to allow a sliding Smith to once again end up out of position & fired home his 3rd of these playoffs & a 1-0 Nashville lead at 8:10.
Finding a way to avoid the post goal let up that has been a troubling trend with Nashville for several weeks now, the next shift really played hard & was able to force another turnover. This time it was Martin Erat who had a sweet thieving of the puck along the boards & immediately passed across the lower slot to Sergei Kostitsyn, who tapped it to Mike Fisher on the other side of crease for the conversion off the stick of an over aggressive Smith & a 2-0 lead just 1:06 after the 1st goal.
Bridgestone Arena was rocking & the Preds continued to play very solid & physical hockey until the end of the 1st period. The 2nd period was back and forth & saw Phoenix outshoot the Preds overall 12-8, but many of the shots were easily seen by Rinne & when rebounds were given up, the defense was there to tie up the Coyotes forwards or just clear the puck from harm’s way.
The 3rd period saw Phoenix make a strong push & earn some power play time that would keep the Preds mostly in own or neutral zone. This was the time when Rinne took over the rest of the game & made at least 3 highlight reel saves. Rinne was at his best when Nashville was on a 5 on 3 penalty kill (S Kostitsyn for Hooking/Erat for tripping) in the last few mins of the game as he was scrambling around the crease under intense Coyotes pressure.
The biggest save of the night comes at the end of the sequence, when Rinne while sliding backwards on his belly towards the net, manages to get his foot up in the air & get a piece of a shot by Radim Vrbata. The Preds were able to maintain defensive zone support over the final couple mins & secure the 2-0 victory.
It was great to see the Nashville Predators return to the level of play that was expected of them heading into round 2 of the Western Conference Semi Finals & play maybe their best overall game since the post season began. Game 4 will be at Bridgestone Arena on Friday night with a 6:30 CT puck drop & according to Head Coach Barry Trotz the line up could look much the same leaving A Kostitsyn & Radulov to wait until Friday to find out if they will be returning to game action.
All players are listed as healthy.
The bottom line…
-The Nashville Predators trail 2-1 to the Phoenix Coyotes in the best of seven Western Conference Semi-Finals.
-In the Western Conference Playoffs #8 LA leads #2 St Louis 2-0.
- Eastern Conference #1 NYR leads #7 Was 2-1, #4 Phi & #6 NJ are tied 1-1.
-The Predators are home for game 4 on Friday 6:30 CT.
-D Ryan Suter led all Preds in time on ice with 28:16 & was +1 with 3 shots on goal & 2 take aways.
-F David Legwand scored his 3rd goal of the playoffs (12th of career) & had 4 shots on goal with a 60% face off winning percentage.
-F Mike Fisher played 18:01 & had 1 Goal, 3 shots, 1 hit & was 9-9 in the faceoff dot.
-F Jordin Tootoo led the team in hits with 5 & drew 1 penalty in only 10:11 of ice time.
-G Pekka Rinne recorded his 1st playoff shutout with 32 saves.