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Posted On Saturday, 05.05.2012 / 2:21 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Preds need to solve Coyotes' stifling defense

NASHVILLE -- Just as the Phoenix Coyotes did to the Chicago Blackhawks in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- winning all but one game by one goal -- they are doing the same to the Nashville Predators.

Nashville lost Game 1 in overtime, Game 2 by two goals and Game 4 again by one goal in a 1-0 loss Friday night at Bridgestone Arena.
The Coyotes' defense has been stifling. They yielded only five shots in the first period to Nashville in Game 4 and 25 for the game. In that game – and even in Game 3 which Nashville won 2-0 – the Preds have had great difficulty getting shots through to the net.
Posted On Friday, 05.04.2012 / 1:44 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Hornqvist capitalizing on additional ice time

NASHVILLE -- Even before he was moved up to the Predators' second line when Alexander Radulov was held out of the lineup in Game 3 for violating team rules, right wing Patric Hornqvist started earning more ice time.
It’s a statement about Nashville's depth that coach Barry Trotz could take a player who led the team in goals with 27 during the regular season and put him on the third line for the first seven games of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Hornqvist admits that being on the third line changed his role somewhat to be more of a checking one than a scoring one.
"If you're on the third or fourth line, you have to make sure you don't get scored on," Hornqvist said. "Of course you want to create some offense, but first thought is always not to get scored on, and I think we did a really good job against Detroit (in the first round). Our line, we didn't get scored on, so, plus-3. Now, I just have to get on the board here, and think we really get going last game, so hopefully we can do the same here tonight."
Hornqvist has one goal in eight games so far, but his three assists in this Western Conference Semifinal series with Phoenix lead the team. He also was on ice for the Preds' first goal in Game 3, as his forechecking set up his linemates for the score, even though he did not earn an assist on the play.
Trotz said he has begun to increase Hornqvist's ice time. The Swede did not play more than 15:49 in the first round but has topped 16:29 in each of the first three games of this round, including 20:18 in Game 1, which went to overtime.
"I just think Patric is one of those guys who is capable of elevating his play all the time, and he is one of the most caring players that you'll find," Trotz said. "He is full of energy. He brings everything he's got every night, and when it's playoff time he brings a different level. I just felt that he needed to move up and be a bigger part of our success."
Trotz admitted that Hornqvist's ice time suffered as he was trying to get more time for others. That would be the late-season arrivals of Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn.
"I think I can't really control my ice time, that's about the coaches," Hornqvist said. "Against Detroit, I didn't play that much and I didn't play that good, and now this series I'm playing better and I play more. It's all about me, if I play good he put me out there."
While no one on the Preds would want to say it aloud, Hornqvist is perhaps the primary beneficiary of Radulov's being out of the lineup. He is the only change to Nashville's second line, which is centered by David Legwand and has Gabriel Bourque at left wing.
"I think we have a good line," Hornqvist said. "We play together before Rads come here and play really good. We have to get on our forecheck and get the puck deep and work their (defense). I think we did a great job with that last game."
Posted On Friday, 05.04.2012 / 11:42 AM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Radulov, Kostitsyn out of lineup again for Game 4

NASHVILLE -- Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn will remain out of the Nashville Predators' lineup Friday for Game 4 against the Phoenix Coyotes, coach Barry Trotz said Friday morning.
"As long as we're winning, (Kostitsyn and Radulov) are OK," Trotz said. "We have to win. If someone doesn't play or we have an injury. They handled it quite well. They're top players all their life. They're not used to this."
Radulov had told the media earlier that he did not expect to be back in the lineup for Game 4 after he and Kostitsyn sat out Game 3 for a violation of team rules.
Trotz had said that if Nashville won -- and it did, 2-0 on Wednesday -- he would likely maintain the same lineup. That indication continued on Thursday when Radulov skated in practice with Kostitsyn and rookie Craig Smith, who was a healthy scratch for the game.
"I don't think so," Radulov said after an optional skate on Friday. "They said they don't want to change the lineup."
Trotz said he would use the same lineup, which means that right wing Jordin Tootoo and left wing Matt Halischuk will remain in the lineup. Trotz said he liked the physical impact that Tootoo made on the game. Tootoo drew a cross-checking penalty in the third period on Phoenix defenseman Derek Morris.
Halischuk also drew a penalty and was on the receiving end of a dangerous hit. He went head-first into the boards on a play in which Coyotes defenseman Adrian Aucoin received an interference call. Halischuk went to the locker room after the play for further examination and said he was taken to a "quiet room," where players who are feared to have suffered a concussion are brought. Nonetheless, Halischuk, after the team said that his status was questionable, returned to the game and practiced on Thursday.
"I felt that the group responded really well and I expect the group to respond again," Trotz said. "(Radulov and Kostitsyn) are ready. When I told them, obviously, they want to be in, they want to have some vindication, if you will, but at the same time they were really good about being good pros. ... They understand they're ready to do whatever it takes to get back in."
Trotz said after watching the game film that it was "undeniable" that Nashville played much better in Game 3 than it had in the previous two with the different lineup. He said at this point, the decision was purely made as a hockey decision, whereas earlier it was a disciplinary decision.
Radulov said virtually the same words as Trotz -- that he was fine with it, as long as the team is winning. Since rejoining the Preds in March after four years in the KHL, he has tried to take the focus off of himself and put it onto his team, which he did again on Friday morning.
"Well, yeah, guys play well so I think they made the right change, the right decision," Radulov said. "So I stick up for them. They deserve it. That's the main thing."
Posted On Thursday, 05.03.2012 / 4:30 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Smith venture out to play the puck proved costly

NASHVILLE -- The Phoenix Coyotes were still assessing blame one day after yielding a critical goal on a play in which goaltender Mike Smith came far out of his net to handle the puck in a 2-0 loss to the Predators in Game 3.
Coach Dave Tippett blamed his defense for not getting back fast enough on the play while Smith blamed himself. Smith raced out above the goal line and then reversed the puck behind his net. Tippett said a defenseman should have been there. None was. Instead, the Predators' Gabriel Bourque was and he fed David Legwand in front for the game's first goal. It was the first time in the series Nashville led after losing the first two games. Thus far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Preds have not lost a game in which they have scored first.
"It's probably a bad read on my part," Smith said. "I made that play a hundred times this year. It's worked out most times. Last night it was probably a bad read. I should've gone forehand up the boards with it."
If Smith had played it up the boards, he still could have risked that Nashville would have intercepted the puck in the neutral zone or that he could've gotten the attempt blocked with him still out of position. That's why Tippett laid blame on his defense. Adrian Aucoin and Rostislav Klesla were the defensemen on the ice at the time.
"That's not Mike's mistake," Tippett said. "That's two defensemen. One could've got back quicker. The other (defenseman) should've been in that corner. That's not on Mike. Watch how many times that deters the forecheck. He's the best in the League at it by far, so we have to use that asset."
As for Nashville's second goal, Mike Fisher scored while practically standing on the goal line from near the corner. He threw the puck at the net and it glanced off Smith's outstretched goal stick and then popped high into the net. Smith said he had "no idea" how that goal went in.
"It's scientifically impossible for that to happen," he said. "I've looked at it and (goaltending coach Sean Burke)'s looked at it a hundred times. I still don't know how it goes from that angle."
Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 8:58 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Preds dress Halischuk and Tootoo

NASHVILLE - Wings Matt Halischuk and Jordin Tootoo took the spots in the lineup for suspended Predators Alex Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn on Wednesday for Game 3 of Nashville's Western Conference Semifinal series against the Phoenix Coyotes.

The Predators announced on Tuesday that Radulov and Kostitsyn, who lead them, respectively, with six and four points in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, would sit out for a violation of team rules.

Tootoo has 37 playoff games under his belt in his career -- all with Nashville -- but only one this postseason. A hard-hitting right wing who brings energy, he skated in warmups with fourth-line center Paul Gaustad and Halischuk on the left. Halischuk has played in three games this postseason, all in the previous round against Detroit. He has an assist and a plus-1 rating but has not played more than 6:50 in a game. Last year, Halischuk, 23, scored an overtime goal against Vancouver in the conference semis.

Rookie Craig Smith was the other player in consideration for a lineup spot on Wednesday.

Predators coach Barry Trotz elected to juggle his lines - except for the first one -- entering the game with his team down 0-2 in the series. Patric Hornqvist, the team's leading goal-scorer during the regular season with 27, moved up from the third line to the second, taking Radulov's spot with center David Legwand and rookie left wing Gabriel Bourque.

The third line was Colin Wilson, making his second appearance of the postseason and his second straight, at left wing with Nick Spaling at center and Brandon Yip at right wing. Wilson and Yip were teammates at Boston University.

Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 2:27 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Projected Game 3 lineups

NASHVILLE -- Here's how the lineups project for Game 3 of the Western Conference Semfinal series between the Phoenix Coyotes and Nashville Predators set for Wednesday night (9 p.m. ET, CNBC, TSN) at Bridgestone Arena:

Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Mikkel Boedker - Antoine Vermette - Shane Doan
Taylor Pyatt - Boyd Gordon - Marc-Antoine Pouliot
Kyle Chipchura - Daymond Langkow - Gilbert Brule
Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Rostislav Klesla
David Schlemko - Adrian Aucoin
Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera
Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Gabriel Bourque - David Legwand - Patric Hornqvist

With forwards Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn being held out of Game 3 due to disciplinary reasons, the Predators' third and fourth lines have some question marks. Nick Spaling centers the third line, flanked by Brandon Yip and either Colin Wilson or Craig Smith, depending on if the latter is in the lineup. Paul Gaustad centers the fourth line, with Jordin Tootoo on right wing and either Wilson or Matt Halischuk, the other possible lineup addition, on the left.
Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Roman Josi - Hal Gill
Kevin Klein - Francis Bouillon
Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback

Posted On Friday, 04.20.2012 / 2:48 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - Predators vs. Red Wings series blog

Babcock on Lidstrom's future: 'He's too good to quit'

NASHVILLE -- With Detroit facing elimination on Friday, coach Mike Babcock was asked once again if this could be the final game for defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, the seven-time Norris Trophy winner who will be 42 in a number of days.
First, Babcock was asked if Lidstrom is still bothered by an ankle injury that kept him sidelined late in the regular season.
"The great thing about that is you can ask Nick, so that gets me off the hook," he said. "… I think Nick Lidstrom retires when he thinks he's not a good player anymore, but I think he's been a pretty darn good player. I don't know what could possibly be more fun than playing hockey at a high level on a great team. And I know his wife, so she doesn't want him around, for sure. Why wouldn't you keep playing?"
Babcock was asked a follow-up.
"I say this every year so this is seven years for me I've answered this question," he said. "I always say the same thing: He's too good to quit."
Posted On Friday, 04.20.2012 / 2:45 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - Predators vs. Red Wings series blog

Wings stress importance of second shots on Rinne

NASHVILLE -- From coach Mike Babcock to defenseman Brad Stuart to forwards Danny Cleary and Drew Miller, the Detroit Red Wings on Friday often discussed the need to get second shots on Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne.
Rinne stopped 81 of 84 shots in the Predators' two victories in Games 3 and 4 at Joe Louis Arena, and generally has the Red Wings searching for answers. Detroit has scored only eight goals in the four games.
The first goal in particular has been critical in this series, as the team scoring it has won every game. Cleary was asked if Nashville plays any differently when it has the lead.
"Yes and no," he said. "They're a really good defensive hockey team and they're disciplined. This is not a rush-chance opportunity series. There's no 2-on-1s. There's hardly any 3-on-2s. I mean, they've always got guys back and they're blocking everything and they've got like a wall built in front, and so we've got to come in from the sides. It's just a tight series. Right now we're a little stymied, for sure.”
Part of the problem in creating second chances, Cleary said, is that Rinne "catches everything" with his glove, so the Red Wings need to be mindful of keeping the puck away from his glove hand, which is easier said than done.
Babcock said the Red Wings "can't be impatient."
"I don't think we got too impatient last game at all," he said. "I thought we stuck with it. To me, we need some second chances on their goaltender. The puck's not coming off him very much because he catches a lot of things, so we've got to figure out a way to get some second chances and be determined and understand it's going to be tight-checking and there's not going to be a lot of room. ... We need to fight for seconds."
Posted On Friday, 04.20.2012 / 12:32 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - Predators vs. Red Wings series blog

Trotz rules Gill out for Game 5

NASHVILLE -- Predators coach Barry Trotz ruled defenseman Hal Gill out for Game 5 on Friday at Bridgestone Arena (8 p.m. ET, CNBC, CBC).
With a win against the Red Wings, the Predators would advance to the Western Conference Semifinals for the second straight season.
Gill, the Preds' leader in blocked shots and in shorthanded time on ice, has yet to play in this series with a lower-body injury.
Gill participated in his first full practice on Thursday and took part in the team’s optional skate. Gill said he would be a game-time decision before Trotz ruled him out. Asked if he expected Gill to play, Trotz said, "No, I don't expect him to play tonight." Then, asked if Gill was out, Trotz responded with a simple "yes."
Earlier, Gill was asked if whether he plays depends on pain tolerance or risk of further injury. He responded by saying, "There's a lot of decisions to be made from coaching, the trainers to me. There's a lot of conversation going on right now. To take a page from [former Montreal coach] Jacques Martin, there's a process and we're going to stick with it."
That once again leaves either Jack Hillen or rookie Ryan Ellis to take Gill's place in the lineup. Hillen played in Games 1 and 2, Ellis in Games 3 and 4. Neither has averaged more than eight minutes per game.
One Nashville defenseman who goes about his game quietly and often gets overlooked is 36-year-old Francis Bouillon. Bouillon leads the series with a plus-5 rating while averaging 14:37, fifth among Preds' defensemen.
"I guess I'm lucky," Bouillon said. "[Goalie Pekka Rinne] saved me a few times. I try to play a good game defensively and there's a little bit of luck, too, and I didn't create much offensively, so sometimes it's being in the right place at the right moment, but, defensively, I try to play pretty hard in my own zone and do my best."
Trotz called the 5-foot-8, 198-pound Bouillon a "battler."
"You talk about a veteran, a veteran always has a lot of pride when it comes to the game and they always seem to elevate their game at playoff time," Trotz said. "Frankie is just one of those guys, he gives you everything he's got. He battles through everything. Pound for pound, he's as tough mentally and physically as anyone you're going to meet.
"He's had a real strong series and it's because he's got some veteran poise, some veteran diligence, if you will -- all those things that make you a good pro, and he knows the importance of each and every shift in the playoffs and he's really elevated his game."
Bouillon's plus/minus rating has benefitted from playing with defenseman Kevin Klein, one of the unlikely offensive heroes in this series, as Klein has two goals. The two have been paired together on-and-off for most of the last three seasons.
Over his final 13 games of the regular season, Bouillon scored four goals. In the previous 663 games in his career, Bouillon had scored 25 times.
"It was different a month ago, but now it's like the opposite," Bouillon said. "Kleier skates, shoots and I back him up."
Note: On Thursday in practice, rookie forward Craig Smith skated on the fourth line with center Paul Gaustad and wing Brandon Yip, leading to speculation he could play his first game of the series over Matt Halischuk. Trotz said Smith, who had 14 goals during the regular season, would bring speed and determination to the lineup if he plays. Trotz said both Smith and Colin Wilson would be ready if called upon.
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