NASHVILLE -- The Phoenix Coyotes played pretty well for about 58 1/2 minutes Wednesday night at Bridgestone Arena. Some nights, that will be enough to mask a couple of glaring errors in the other 90 seconds or so.
A road game in the Western Conference Semifinals is not just "some nights," though. The Nashville Predators took advantage of the Coyotes during that blip and captured a 2-0 victory in Game 3.
Phoenix has another chance to assert its control of this series Friday night in Game 4, but the Coyotes want to limit the gaffes and apply more pressure in the offensive zone.
"We've talked about it. We didn't play a bad game. We were OK, but OK isn't going to win on the road in the playoffs. We have to be better than that," Phoenix captain Shane Doan said Friday morning. "We gave them ... both goals were not normal mistakes that we've had throughout the playoffs, and we've got to limit them. If we can limit those and play the game that we want to play -- a little bit harder, a little bit more direct at the net. If we do that, good things should happen."
Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said he wasn't expecting to make any lineup changes after Game 3, but also didn't rule it out. One missing guy who isn't expected to return is Lauri Korpikoski, who has been absent for the past two contests in this series with an undisclosed injury.
Center Boyd Gordon did not skate Thursday at practice or Friday during a very optional morning workout, but if Tippett does make a change, it could be if he was unable to play after blocking a Shea Weber slap shot at close range Wednesday.
"There's adjustments to make, but we’ve got some healthy people and some non-healthy people," Tippett said. "We'll look at all the options. I'm not ruling out a change, but right now it looks like it will be the same."
Tippett made it clear Thursday that goaltender Mike Smith was not the primary player at fault when Nashville's David Legwand scored after Smith's pass behind his net was intercepted. The second goal came after Martin Erat stripped the puck from Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who has probably been Phoenix's top defenseman in this postseason, and set up Sergei Kostitsyn and Mike Fisher for a 2-on-0 at point-blank range.
Phoenix missed its own opportunities. Rostislav Klesla hit the far post with a shot during an odd-man rush, and the Coyotes squandered a 5-on-3 in the third period.
"There's some areas that we can clean up," Tippett said. "I thought the two goals we made some mistakes, and I would classify those as unearned chances for them, so there's some areas you got to clean up. There's always subtle little tweaks here and there to grab an advantage. If you take those two goals out, it was a pretty tight game. You're looking for a player to make a big play, or a line to have a great shift.
"There's ways to win. We've been a pretty good club at finding ways to win in tight situations. We just have to try to get back to that."
Here’s what the Coyotes lineup could look like for Game 4:
Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said after Game 3 that Gordon was fine. Gordon left the game after dropping to one knee and appearing to take the blast off his arm from close range, but did return.
"There's some guys ... that's just what they do," Tippett said. "Sometimes you wonder why all guys don't do that, but that's [Gordon]. That's why he's such a valuable player for us."
Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith called Gordon "a warrior." This is Gordon's first year with the Coyotes after signing in the offseason. He's been a top faceoff/penalty-killer in the League after carving out that role with the Washington Capitals.
He also has a knack for being on the receiving end of big hits and hard shots, and Wednesday night was no different.
"I have gear on and I'm scared sometimes," Smith said.
Gordon is expected to skate Friday morning before Game 4 at Bridgestone Arena.
Another injured Coyotes forward, Lauri Korpikoski, did practice Thursday. Korpikoski has missed the past two games with an undisclosed injury. He also skated Wednesday morning before Game 3.
"It's been a couple days, a few days. Yeah, always day-by-day I am feeling better," Korpikoski said. "It is good. I think I've been game-time [decision] for a while now, so it is the same. We'll see how it goes."
Added Tippett: "We're just day-to-day. We'll continue tomorrow. He's out there and trying to get himself going."
Korpikoski had 17 goals and 37 points this season for the Coyotes while playing in all 82 regular-season games. He also missed two contests during the opening round against Chicago because of an upper-body injury.
"I missed a couple in the first series and it wasn't fun," he said. "To miss a couple again, it is tough. I feel a lot more tired than if I was playing. It is not fun to watch those games, but hopefully I can get back soon."
NASHVILLE -- Mike Fisher has put shots on net this postseason that he thought were going in, so naturally his first goal of this postseason came on a pass.
Fisher gave the Nashville Predators a 2-0 lead in Game 3 of this Western Conference Semifinal on Wednesday, which helped his team cut Phoenix's series lead to 2-1 and snapped a personal goal drought that had reached 16 postseason games.
"Yeah, it is always nice to get one. It had been a while," Fisher said Thursday after practice at Bridgestone Arena. "I was getting some chances, they just hadn't gone in. Hopefully that will be a little monkey off the back and I can get going now."
When Fisher tried to send the puck back to Kostitsyn, it deflected off Smith's outstretched stick and knuckled over his right shoulder into the net.
"He kind of had his back turned so he was in a different position," Fisher said. "He gave it to me right away and I was just trying to go back to him back door and got a lucky bounce. I'll take it. It usually evens itself out. Some you think you should score and you don't, and others you just get lucky. That's just the way it goes sometimes."
Added Erat: "With Sergei, I'm not surprised with anything. I get used to it. He made the great play and it ends in up the net. That's most important. ... Mike does a lot of good things. It is not all about the scoring. In the playoffs, you've got guys who are going to score. Third-line, fourth-line guys are going to score, but it is all about the 60 minutes and Mike puts the effort every night on the ice."
Fisher's playoff drought dated back to the middle of the first round of last year's playoffs. He went without a goal in the Predators' second-round loss to the Vancouver Canucks and didn't have one in the first seven games of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
There were some extenuating circumstances last year, however. While Fisher scored three goals in the first three games against Anaheim in the opening round, he played the entire postseason with an ailing shoulder -- an injury that needed surgery to correct in the offseason.
"I wasn't able to be physical as I wanted to, and I wasn't able to have that same impact," Fisher said. "At the same time, I was able to play, but definitely I feel much better this year. Especially in the last half, it has been much stronger and the physical part of the game has been much better.
"It was an ongoing thing I had been dealing with for quite a long time. I had just lost a lot of strength and wasn't able to do certain things, especially physically, defensively and use it the way I wanted to. I'm obviously glad I got it done."
NASHVILLE -- The Phoenix Coyotes have an opportunity to strengthen their hold on this Western Conference Semifinal series, and their opponent is going to be without its leading point producer and co-leader in goals during the playoffs.
"You look at what those guys did before [Radulov and Kostitsyn] got there, and they were a great team before," Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. "I think those guys made them even better, but it is not like they were struggling along beforehand. ... If it is coming home to my building, you're going to come out flying. We expect that, and we have to be ready for that. We can't sit back and wait for it. We have to go after it ourselves."
Added Coyotes forward Boyd Gordon: "They've got a great hockey team and we expect them to respond. We expect them to come out hard, and it is a tough building to play in. In a series, the momentum can change pretty quickly. We're aware of that and tonight is a big one for us."
The Predators would be desperate even if Radulov and Kostitsyn were not suspended for a violation of team rules. Teams have come back from a 3-0 deficit three times in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Sure, Philadelphia did it two years ago, but that hasn't stopped clubs from viewing a Game 3 when down 2-0 in a series as a must-win.
Even without Radulov and Kostitsyn, the Predators aren't likely to want for effort. Adding a guy like Jordin Tootoo to the lineup could also add an extra dash of spice for what should be an electric atmosphere at Bridgestone Arena.
"I don't know if we're going to expect too much different from them," Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle said. "They are a hard-working team. That's just the way that they play. Like us, they have some skill guys but they have a lot of guys who work hard and it doesn't matter who is the in lineup."
Added Gordon: "They're a hard-working team. They've got a few key guys out, but they have great depth up front and they're down 2-0. We know we're going to have to match their sense of urgency. We want to build on Game 2. I think we played pretty well, so we want to keep building on that."
NASHVILLE -- The Phoenix Coyotes were a solid road team during the regular season, winning 20 times away from Jobing.com Arena.
Like other teams around the NHL, they have found even more success in the postseason while donning the white sweaters. Phoenix will try to win for the fourth time in as many tries away from home in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs when the Coyotes face the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday in Game 3 of this Western Conference Semifinal series.
"Our game is similar. We don't change a lot home or on the road. I think we're very competitive in both areas," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "Our group is very focused on how we play, and we take in where we play after that. It is pretty much the same game for us, home or on the road."
The Coyotes went to Chicago and won three times at United Center in the first round of the playoffs. Two were won in overtime on Mikael Boedker goals, but Phoenix also posted a 4-0 win in the clinching Game 6 at "The Madhouse on Madison."
Chicago was 27-8-6 at home during the regular season, but the Coyotes prevailed each time.
"We've been opportunistic," Tippett said. "There were a couple of games, two game in Chicago, that could have gone either way. Boedker was opportunistic in getting a couple of overtime goals.
"I think you've seen that throughout the playoffs this year. I don't know how much home-ice advantage has really been an advantage. I think it can be late in a series. If we're going to close out a series in Game 7, I'd certainly rather be at home."
Tippett is right -- home-ice hasn't been much of an "advantage" during this postseason. The road team is 34-22 after New Jersey defeated Philadelphia on Tuesday night. Pacific Division teams are 9-2 on the road, including three wins in Vancouver, three in Chicago and three in St. Louis.
Being at home for Game 7 wasn't even much of a help in the first round -- two of the three winner-take-all showdowns were won by the team in white.
"We had good road success until the last two games," said Nashville coach Barry Trotz, whose team went to Detroit, which had the best home record in the League this season, and swept Games 3 and 4 in the opening round. "I think it is just your group against the world. You're going into the lion's den all the time. It keeps you patient, keeps you focused."
Radulov and Kostitsyn are suspended for this game because of a violation of team rules. Smith has played two postseason games for the Predators -- Game 5 against Detroit in the first-round clincher and Game 1 of this series. Tootoo played once, in Game 3 against the Red Wings.
"I'm not going to say I'm going to be a savior. This is a team effort," Tootoo said. "Part of my game is bringing the physicality and the energy. Maybe that is what we need this time, is a little spark. I know whoever is in the lineup is going to get the job done, and that is part of being a team. You rely on each other."
Added Trotz: "We just have to get back to our game tonight. The guys who are out -- Andrei and [Radulov] -- they weren't with us for 65 games or so. Guys that are going in have been together, so guys have been, be it a Craig Smith, has been on the power play. We've had other guys do it, like [Colin] Wilson, Smith, [Brandon] Yip. ... I think the depth makes it a little easier to recover. In the past, we've had some injuries that really threw us off and we couldn't recover from them."
Matt Halischuk, who hasn't played in three games, would also be an option for the Predators. The team has been carrying several extra forwards since trading for Kostitsyn and Paul Gaustad before the trade deadline, and Radulov's late-season return from Russia crowded the mix even more.
Smith played 72 games during the season, finishing with 14 goals and 36 points. Wilson played 68 contests and had 35 points, but he was scratched for the first six games of this postseason.
"It makes it tough, but it is pretty competitive," Smith said. "The guys are coming in and if you've been here the whole year it was tough to keep your spot, but in the end it is what's best for the team. The 20 guys that they pick is what you have to feel is right, and you just have to go with it."
Patric Hornqvist will move up into the top six to replace Radulov, while Smith or Wilson could end up on the third line in Kostitsyn's spot.
Trotz said the team did not find out about Radulov's and Kostitsyn's rule violations until after Game 2.
"We did not know before Game 2," Trotz said. "We found out after Game 2. Hell would have had to freeze over for them to play in Game 2 if we knew before."
Radulov is the team's leading scorer in this postseason with six points, and Kostitsyn is tied for the team lead with three goals. Still, Trotz said their absences from the lineup could extend beyond the suspension.
"Tonight, if we get it done, I would expect that I will probably go back with the same group," Trotz said. "They'd be the group that gets it done."
NEW YORK -- One of the battle cries from some members of the Washington Capitals after the two practices since a 3-1 loss in Game 1 of this Eastern Conference Semifinal series has been the need for more speed through the neutral zone.
Washington's ability to create said speed does not start in the neutral zone, but in the Capitals' own end. Ovechkin's line was pinned back by a consistent wave of offensive pressure by the Rangers, and they often spent most of a given shift stuck more than 150 feet away from Lundqvist.
"When you're wheeling around in your own zone and trying to fight battles, it is a lot more tiresome than if you're having fun in the offensive zone creating chances," Washington forward Troy Brouwer said. "Anyone will tell you that. If you're spending most of your shifts in the d-zone, you're getting worn down and you won't have that ability to jump up in the play and create some speed. Guys got to make sure when there's loose pucks, we've got to be the first ones on them, recovering those pucks and getting them out and being good along the walls. That will help us create more offense in that way."
For Ovechkin's line to play less defense, they need to play better defense. A big issue for the Capitals when Ovechkin's unit was on the ice was an inability to get the puck out of danger and away from New York's aggressive forecheckers.
There was an instance where Ovechkin's group was able to break out of its own end crisply -- and the result was a perfectly executed counterattack goal for Chimera. When something like that didn't happen, the line often spent so long playing defense that there was no energy left to play offense.
If Ovechkin did carry the puck into the offensive zone, he went at it alone while Laich and Chimera headed for a change or were left far behind him.
"Actually in the first series … ideally, you want to get flying through the neutral zone, but it doesn’t always happen like that," Laich said. "Especially now when it's pretty tight -- sometimes you have to stay patient and go up the wall with the puck and chip it in and forecheck and create your opportunities. It's not going to be all night where we're flying through the neutral zone."
Brouwer is expected to replace Chimera on the top line. Ovechkin, normally a left wing, skated on the right side for a drill Monday morning. Moving him to the opposite side could mean less one-on-one battles with New York's top shutdown defenseman, Dan Girardi, but his partner Ryan McDonagh is no slouch and it would also mean Brouwer, a natural right wing, would also have to play out of position.
"I don't think there is anything in that," Brouwer said when asked if he might be on the left side for Game 2. "I know he likes to come down that left side so he has the shot available right from the beginning. Guys are reading that and they know he likes to open up and take that shot from the half wall. Maybe if we were on the other sides, and I know that we're not so it is not an issue, but maybe it would throw guys off a little bit."
Laich has been a versatile forward in Washington for the past few seasons, and Brouwer has proven to be similarly adept at playing on different lines in different situations since joining the team from Chicago. He has been deployed at times during the latter part of the regular season and this postseason on the team's checking line with Jay Beagle and Matt Hendricks, but he has also moved up to the top unit on occasion.
"It shouldn't [change], but sometimes it does," Brouwer said. "When you're with skilled players like Brooks and [Ovechkin], you can be more creative as far as offense goes. If you're with [Hendricks] and [Beagle], it is more of a grind-it-out, predictable kind of line. You know exactly where the puck is going and what they will be doing with it, whereas with [Ovechkin] sometimes you don't have a clue. So sometimes there is a change in how you play.
"We have to make it so when we do get the puck out, we're not jammed right up against their d-men, because they do a good job of holding the red [line] and the blue [line]. When teams can do that, it is almost like having another defender because you can't go offsides and you've got to dump pucks. It is tough. We have to try and create more separation coming into the zone."
BOSTON --Jeff Schultz has watched the past three games for the Washington Capitals, but he expects to be back in the lineup for Game 7 of this Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series Wednesday night at TD Garden against the Boston Bruins.
John Erskine replaced Schultz in the lineup for Games 4, 5 and 6, but Schultz skated with Dennis Wideman on Washington's third defense pairing in practice Tuesday, and Erskine stayed on the ice for extra work Wednesday morning.
"It will be great," Schultz said. "It was tough watching, but [Erskine] did a great job after not playing for a long time. Now is it is key for me to come back and fill in for him. It is just a matter of going out there and playing. It isn't about worrying about mistakes or playing time -- just go out there and play and do what you do best and do your job."
Alexander Semin did not take part in the morning skate, but coach Dale Hunter said it was optional and he is fine to play. The Capitals are not expected to make any other changes to the lineup.
Here's how the Capitals should look Wednesday night:
One guy who was surprisingly missing for much of the third period as the Capitals tried to hold off the Bruins was captain Alex Ovechkin, who played only 1:58 in the period. Ovechkin took four shifts in the period, but played only 54 seconds in final 17:20 and only 15 seconds in the final 14:00.
Ovechkin played 15:03 in the first two periods -- more than all of Washington's skaters save for Mike Green, who was on ice for 15:25 through 40 minutes. The Capitals' captain took a 64-second shift that ended 2:40 into the third, then his final three shifts lasted 39, two and 13 seconds.
He spoke to the media after the game, and no injury was mentioned by Ovechkin nor coach Dale Hunter. The two-second shift happened because he came on the ice during play and then the puck went into the netting two seconds later. Hunter went with a different line for the ensuing faceoff. The same thing happened on his final shift -- a stoppage in play led Hunter to choose other players for the faceoff.
Former coach Bruce Boudreau often played Ovechkin in the final minute of games when the Capitals were leading, and Boudreau often said he trusted his captain to play in those situations. Boudreau actually benched Ovechkin for one shift near the end of a game earlier this season when Washington was trailing by a goal and it became a national story in the United States and Canada for multiple days.
Ovechkin wasn't the only star player on the team to not play much in the third period. Green played only 3:24 in the final 20 minutes, while Alexander Semin logged only 3:03. But every Washington skater saw at least three minutes of ice time -- except for Ovechkin.
I'll be happy, believe me, if we win our last playoff game. Not taking anything away, but we've had a fairly good lead for a while now. It would be more surprising if we didn't get the division. Business as usual.
— Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau after clinching their third straight Pacific Division title