The Phoenix-Nashville series didn’t figure to be a one-sided affair.
No surprise, then, that the Predators climbed back into the mix in Wednesday night’s crucial 2-0 win over the Coyotes. Phoenix’s lead in the Western Conference semifinal matchup was thus cut to 2-1.
Now it’s Nashville’s turn to again hold serve at home in Friday night’s Game 4 at Bridgestone Arena and make this an effective best-of-three series when action returns to Glendale, AZ and Jobing.com Arena for Game 5 on Monday night.
Relating to Game 4, however, oddsmakers are thinking that Nashville has a pretty good chance to level matters in this series. A check of the Don Best odds pages notes that the Preds are priced at -160 for the win on Friday night in Music City, with the take-back on underdog Phoenix hovering around +140. The total of five goals is shaded to the ‘under’ at -130 at most Las Vegas wagering outlets.
The Puck Line offers more intriguing options, with Nashville fetching between +190 and +200 when laying the extra goal, and the Coyotes anywhere from -220 to -240 when getting the extra goal. Note that Games 2 and 3 were both decided by multi-goal margins, so laying the extra goal with the home side has been an investment worth considering in this series.
Face-off time on Friday night will be a 7:35 p.m. (EDT), with NBC Sports (the old Versus) and TSN (for Canadian viewers) providing the live TV coverage.
After a couple of wild affairs in the desert in the first two games when 15 goals were scored, action slowed a bit in Wednesday’s game, thanks largely to Nashville finally jumping to an early advantage. A pair of first-period goals just 66 seconds apart from David Legwand (who burned wandering Phoenix GK Mike Smith) and Carrie Underwood’s hubby Mike Fisher staked the Preds to a 2-0 lead in the first 10 minutes.
Thereafter, Nashville GK Pekka Rinne stonewalled the Coyotes en route to 32 saves, and Barry Trotz’ trapping Pred defense was able to effectively muck up the proceedings at center ice, limiting Phoenix’s quality scoring opportunities.
Trotz went back to the future in Game 3, resurrecting original Predator Jordin Tootoo, who had only suited for one previous playoff game this spring, and employing him for a handful of shifts when his grinding presence set the tone for the sort of physical, throwback-style hockey in which the Nashville is still most comfortable.
Of course, there was desperation fueling the Nashville effort on Wednesday, not only because of the 0-2 deficit, but because of suspensions to key wingers Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn, both disciplined for undisclosed reasons after Game 2. Their status for Game 4 remains unknown as we went to press.
If nothing else, however, the Preds proved that they can still roll out their time-tested, defense-oriented formula and become a handful for the opposition. And when Rinne is as sharp between the pipes as he was in Game 3, the old Trotz formula has an even better chance at succeeding.
It’s worth noting that the lower-scoring nature of Game 3 might also signify a departure from the pace and tempo of previous meetings even prior to the first two games of this series in Phoenix. Goals had been flying in Coyotes-Predators battles prior to Wednesday, with 39 of them being scored in the first six meetings that included four regular-season clashes.
For the Coyotes, the formula is simple; don’t fall behind and play into the hands of Trotz and his defensive tactics. To that end, Phoenix must also be careful with its penalties, especially defender Derek Morris, who took three of the five handed out to the Coyotes in Game 3, and was in the penalty box when Legwand scored the first Nashville goal.
Goalie Smith’s net-wandering is always a concern for Phoenix as well, but coach Dave Tippett believes the positives of Smith’s aggressive style far outweigh the negatives despite getting beaten when out of position on Legwand’s goal in the first period on Wednesday. Defensive breakdowns can also be blamed for the Preds’ goals, as Adrian Aucoin didn’t skate back fast enough and was out of position on Legwand’s goal, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson coughed up the puck in his own end, leading to the ricochet goal by Nashville’s Fisher.
Phoenix, however, did play Nashville on even terms for the final 50 minutes, and was able to spring winger Radim Vrbata for five shots, including a couple of golden opportunities during a 5-on-3 power play advantage in the third period. Vrbata has looked more aggressive offensively in the first three games of this series, suggesting he is beyond some of the injury problems that slowed him late in the regular season and in the first round vs. the Blackhawks.
There were some other firsts in Game Three for the Coyotes, who lost for the first time on the road this postseason after winning three in a row at Chicago, and also fell behind by two goals for the first time in the playoffs.
A repeat of the latter would be effectively signing another death warrant when facing Rinne and the trapping Trotz defense in Game 4.