Predators head coach Barry Trotz said he didn’t need to defend his decision to sit Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn. But in the waning moments of Game Four, trailing 1-0 to a Phoenix Coyotes team that had stifled the Predators all night long, you could only help but wonder if two of their most talented forwards could have made a difference.
“How would I defend (my decision)? I don’t think I have to defend it. We created chances,” Trotz said after a 1-0 loss to the Coyotes that has put the Predators on the brink of elimination heading into Monday’s Game Five. “You can say the what-ifs; maybe they could have made a difference. We’ll never know that.”
Trotz was right. The Predators had chances. They outshot the Coyotes 25-24, missed on a few point-blank chances in the second period and came close in the third. The fact of the matter is, the Predators came up empty offensively in a game they had to win.
Would Radulov and Kostitsyn have made a difference? As Trotz said, we’ll never know.
“The guys that played, played well and created lots of chances. We just had to bury one of them,” Trotz said.
The Predators thought they had buried a power play chance midway through the third period. A shot from Mike Fisher was not controlled by Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith, resulting in a sizeable scrum in the crease. The puck crossed the goal line, but the prospective tying goal was disallowed.
“(The officials) said that [Patric] Hornqvist pushed the goaltender into the net,” Trotz said. “If you look at it, I don’t buy that.”
Phoenix did a quality job all night of frustrating the Predators and limiting their opportunities, especially in the third period when the Predators were seeking the tying goal.
“They did a good job of getting in lanes and pressuring (us); they didn’t give (us) much time,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “We had three or four good chances in the second period where we missed the net, but we were maybe a little too fancy.”
A few of those scoring chances came on the stick of Hornqvist, who finished the night with a game-high 12 shots attempted (5 missed, 4 blocked, 3 on goal). Hornqvist hit the post and missed an open-net opportunity on the same shift, and then couldn’t bury a cross-ice feed from David Legwand.
“It was bad,” Hornqvist said of his missed chance on the open net with Smith down. “I tried to get it up. I’m so close to him. He’s so big, so I tried to get it over. So yeah, I missed the net.
“And then when Leggy gave it to me backdoor, I didn’t really see it; it was bouncing and couldn’t finish. … That happens.”
The Predators had three power play chances, including one with 8:26 remaining. Their only shot on that man advantage was the reviewed goal that was disallowed, pushing their drought of unconverted power plays on home ice in the playoffs to 23.
They pushed hard late in the game to try to send the game to overtime, but Smith wasn’t having any of it. He shut the door on the Predators to record his second shutout of the postseason.
In the end, would Radulov or Kostitsyn have made a difference? Who knows. Captain Shea Weber agreed with Trotz when he was asked that question.
“I think the guys that were in the lineup did a great job,” Weber said. “We fought hard and we just need to do better next time.”
As it turns out, next time could be the last time the Predators take the ice this season. Down 3-1 in this series after Shane Doan’s first period goal was all the offense the Coyotes needed, the Predators face the tall task of having to win three in a row if they wish to advance to the third round.
Going into Monday’s Game Five, the Predators just want to win one in a row.
“We have to take one game at a time,” Suter said. “If you look at the big picture, it’s a lot of work. But if we take it one game at a time, it’s doable.”