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Posted On Monday, 05.07.2012 / 6:54 PM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Wilson to start on top line for Preds

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Colin Wilson has been in this position before.

Wilson, a high draft pick filled with promise but lacking in high-end results, was a healthy scratch at the beginning of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs before dressing for the final three games and offering a glimmer of hope for future success.

Colin Wilson
Center - NSH
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 0
SOG: 3 | +/-: 0
This year he played in only two of the final 12 games of the regular season and not at all against Detroit in the first round of the playoffs. He came back into the lineup for the Nashville Predators in Game 2 of this Western Conference Semifinal series against the Phoenix Coyotes, and in three contests has earned a promotion to the top line.

Maybe, just maybe, Wilson is starting to figure it out at the NHL level.

"An epiphany?" Wilson said. "Yeah, I think just the more throughout my career I've realized that nothing is being given to me in terms of ice time and just motivates me to play that much harder. Whatever they are telling me, I'm going to take it in, soak it in. That's what I've been doing lately, and I have been playing harder defensively. I have tried to step up my game after being healthy scratched." 
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Posted On Monday, 05.07.2012 / 6:36 PM

By Jerry Brown -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Projected lines for Coyotes for Game 5

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- With David Schlemko in for Rostislav Klesla and Lauri Korpikoski a game-time decision, here is tonight's projected lineup for the Phoenix Coyotes:

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

Michal Rozsival - Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
David Schlemko - Adrian Aucoin

Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera
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Posted On Monday, 05.07.2012 / 5:40 PM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Predators seek defining moment, series comeback

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Every team that wins the Stanley Cup has some defining moments along the way. Last year, it was a pair of overtime goals for Nathan Horton, a can-you-believe-it stick save by Tim Thomas and even when Horton was knocked out of the Cup Final by an illegal hit.

As fictional baseball manager Lou Brown put it, "All we need is something to bring it all together." The Nashville Predators are on the precipice of elimination Monday night, so if they're going to forge an improbable journey to a Stanley Cup championship, one of those series-shifting, season-defining events could happen in Game 5 of this Western Conference Semifinal series.

"We've got to look forward," coach Barry Trotz said. "Tonight is our chance to get a win in Phoenix so we can live another day. We think we have a really good group. I know we have a good leadership group in there. We've had to go through some things. I don't think any team that has done anything special in sport or has won anything hasn't gone through some adversity. Well, this might be our adversity. There are moments that pass you by that you look back 20 years from now and say, 'That was the moment.' You can make a difference, and tonight might be their moment.

"We can get back in the series a little bit and get it to 3-2. That's all we can do. We're not going to win the series tonight. No team has ever won three games in one night in the NHL that I know of. We've just got to win a hockey game. It is going to be a moment-to-moment situation."

The big story leading into Game 5 is the return of Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn after missing the past two games. Radulov, the team's leading scorer with six points, and Kostitsyn, the joint goals leader with three, were held out of the lineup for Game 3 for a violation of team rules, which was reportedly breaking curfew the night before the last game here, Game 2.

They were also healthy scratches for Game 4 after the team played well in a 2-0 win in Game 3. The Predators were shut out in Game 4 by Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith, so the duo could be a spark for the offense.

"I have something to prove, basically not to [the media] or to somebody; first of all, it's to myself, and that's about it," Radulov said.

Radulov and Kostitsyn will skate on a line with Nick Spaling, at least to start the contest. Colin Wilson is expected to start on the top line after playing well the past two games. Kostitsyn's brother, Sergei, will drop to the fourth line.

"We practiced yesterday. Before that, we've had a few shifts together," Radulov said of playing with Spaling. "At this time of year, it basically doesn't matter who you play with. You just have to go out there and do your best and show effort and just try to win. We're down 3-1, so we don't have much. We just have to play hard and go out there and win the game."

Added Trotz: "[Radulov] is a pretty proud guy. He wants to be part of this series. He's going to be part of this series. He wants to make a difference. I think we'll talk to him and say, 'This is what we expect and you've got to be part of the format.' He can make a difference. ... I'm glad they want this challenge. It is a big challenge for them. They're coming into a situation where we're behind the eight ball, if you will. They can make a difference tonight. If they do, it might be the thing that changes the whole series."

Trotz said he told the two skilled forwards that they would be back in for Game 5 the morning after Game 4. Nashville had a sparsely-attended optional skate Saturday morning with an extra day off before Game 5, but Radulov and Kostistyn skated and Trotz told them afterwards.

"I just told them, 'You're back in and you can make a difference,'" Trotz said. "I told them, 'It is not going to be easy. People aren't going to let you off the hook. You're going to be judged. You're going to be weighed. All of those things.' I needed to tell them early so they could be in the right frame of mind that, 'Hey, I've got a big task in front of me and I know it is going to be challenging. I know I'm going to get questioned.' I wanted them to have the opportunity to prepare for success, and not just at the last minute say, 'Hey, you're in.' I don't think that would have been fair to them."

Here is the projected lineup for the Predators in Game 5 of this Western Conference Semifinal series against Phoenix at Jobing.com Arena:

Colin Wilson - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Gabriel Bourque - David Legwand - Patric Hornqvist
Andrei Kostistyn - Nick Spaling - Alexader Radulov
Sergei Kostistyn - Paul Gaustad - Matt Halischuk/Jordin Tootoo/Craig Smith

Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Hal Gill - Roman Josi
Kevin Klein - Francis Boullon

Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback
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Posted On Monday, 05.07.2012 / 5:20 PM

By Jerry Brown -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Pouliot filling in admirably in Korpikoski's absence

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Coyotes winger Lauri Korpikoski ranked fourth on the Phoenix Coyotes with 17 goals and 37 points this season and wears a variety of hats for the team as a special teams performer and responsible checker.
 
But injuries have limited Korpikoski to just five games in the postseason and he has played in just three of the last eight games. Kopikoski is getting closer but is still a game-time decision for Monday night's Game 5 when the Coyotes will try to close out the Nashville Predators and advance to the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history.
 
The Coyotes have a quandary. Marc-Antoine Pouliot has played very steady hockey (one assist, plus-one) in averaging about 10 minutes of ice in the last three games. And while Phoenix could use the added surge of offense, Korpikoski would have about a week to rest and get ready for the Western Conference Finals if Phoenix can advance on Monday.
 
"We'll see where he is today," said Tippett, sounding like he was ready to play without Korpikoski. "When we feel like he can contribute to the maximum, that's when he'll play."
 
Pouliot has been a pleasant surprise for the organization this year and his versatility -- playing both the wing and center spots -- and toughness fit in well in this type of series.
 
"He's filled in very well for Korpikoski," Tippett said. "He's a solid player, two-way player, strong on the boards and solid in all parts of the game. He hasn't gotten on the scoreboard, but if you look at the guts of the game he's a heavy player similar to a [Taylor] Pyatt. He's been a good player for us."
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Posted On Sunday, 05.06.2012 / 10:51 PM

By Jerry Brown -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Success in playoffs means thicker beards for Coyotes

The Phoenix Coyotes have gone farther in the playoffs than ever before, and they have the playoff beards to prove it.
 
Keith Yandle
Defense - PHX
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 7
SOG: 12 | +/-: 7
Defenseman Keith Yandle spent most of an interview scratching his facial hair and when asked about how he was enjoying the hockey rite of spring, he wasn't shy.
 
"It's awful. I spend all day picking things out of it. Food, loose objects, everything," Yandle said. "I love it because it's a sign we're still around fighting for the Stanley Cup. But it's not one of my favorite things."
 
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Posted On Sunday, 05.06.2012 / 9:41 PM

By Jerry Brown -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Coyotes forced to play Game 5 without Klesla

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Already without winger Raffi Torres for the rest of the playoffs, the Phoenix Coyotes will try to eliminate the Nashville Predators on Monday night with another player sitting out a suspension.

Rostislav Klesla
Defense - PHX
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 6
SOG: 19 | +/-: 1
Defenseman Rostislav Klesla will miss Game 5 after being suspended for one game for his boarding infraction against Nashville's Matt Halischuk in Game 4 on Friday night. Klesla was penalized on the play, but the League's Department of Safety ruled that Halischuk was defenseless as he chased a puck to the sideboards in part because Klesla grabbed his jersey before administering his check.

Klesla will likely be replaced by David Schlemko -- the only other defenseman to see time in the playoffs so far -- when they take a 3-1 series lead into Game 5 at Jobing.com Arena. Klesla's usual partner is Adrian Aucoin, but Schlemko skated with several partners during Sunday’s practice and the pairings could change.
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Posted On Saturday, 05.05.2012 / 2:21 PM

By John Manasso -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 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.
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Posted On Friday, 05.04.2012 / 2:52 PM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Being merely good wasn't good enough for Coyotes

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:

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 - Michal Rozsival
Rostislav Klesla - Adrian Aucoin

Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera


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Posted On Friday, 05.04.2012 / 1:44 PM

By John Manasso -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 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."
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Posted On Friday, 05.04.2012 / 11:42 AM

By John Manasso -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 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."
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Posted On Thursday, 05.03.2012 / 4:40 PM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Coyotes' skate: Gordon absent, Korpikoski present

NASHVILLE -- Boyd Gordon did not skate Thursday for the Phoenix Coyotes after stepping in front of a Shea Weber slap shot Wednesday night.

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."




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Posted On Thursday, 05.03.2012 / 4:30 PM

By John Manasso -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 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."
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Posted On Thursday, 05.03.2012 / 2:57 PM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Fisher doesn't mind a little bit of luck

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."

Martin Erat started the play by stripping Phoenix defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and then he sent a pass to Sergei Kostitsyn, who was alone in front of goaltender Mike Smith. Kostitsyn one-touched the puck to Fisher, who probably was in a less enviable scoring position.

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."
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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 8:58 PM

By John Manasso -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 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.

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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 4:22 PM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Coyotes expect energy, desperation from Predators

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.

Yet they are bracing for a stern test from the Nashville Predators, even if they will be without Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn.

"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."
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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 4:14 PM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Coyotes aiming to improve road playoff record to 4-0

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."


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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 3:02 PM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Smith, Tootoo appear likely to join Predators lineup


NASHVILLE -- Predators coach Barry Trotz wouldn't say who will replace suspended forwards Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn, but during the team's morning skate Wednesday before a critical Game 3 of this Western Conference Semifinal series it looked like Craig Smith and Jordin Tootoo will be in the lineup as the team tries to avoid falling behind 3-0 to the Phoenix Coyotes.

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."
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Posted On Wednesday, 05.02.2012 / 2:27 PM

By John Manasso -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 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:

COYOTES
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
 
PREDATORS
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

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Posted On Saturday, 04.28.2012 / 6:31 PM

By Jerry Brown -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Lineup tweaks possible for both teams in Game 2

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Neither the Phoenix Coyotes nor the Nashville Predators will skate Sunday morning due to the 5 p.m. local time start for Game 2 of their Western Conference Semifinal series. But both coaches hinted that lineup changes could be coming.

The Coyotes may make a change on defense with David Schlemko or Michael Stone subbing for either Adrian Aucoin or Derek Morris. Marc-Antoine is also an option up front.

Nashville could go with Colin Wilson, who has yet to make his first postseason appearance but took the pregame skate on Friday for the first time. He skated with the scratches on Saturday, but Predators coach Barry Trotz said Wilson would be the first player in if he makes a change, with Craig Smith (9:29 of ice in Game 1) most likely to be replaced.

Ray Whitney's goal 14:04 into overtime gave the Coyotes a 4-3 win in Game 1.

Here is what the lineups for the Coyotes and Predators could look like for Game 2 (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS):

Predators

Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Gabriel Bourque - David Legwand - Alexander Radulov
Andrei Kostitsyn - Nick Spaling - Patric Hornqvist
Brandon Yip - Paul Gaustad - Craig Smith/Craig Wilson

Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Roman Josi - Kevin Klein
Francis Bouillon - Hal Gill

Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback

Coyotes

Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Mikkel Boedker - Antoine Vermette - Lauri Korpikoski
Taylor Pyatt - Boyd Gordon - Shane Doan
Kyle Chipchura - Daymond Langkow - Gilbert Brule

Keith Yandle - Derek Morris/David Schlemko
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Michal Rozsival
Rostislav Klesla - Adrian Aucoin/Michael Stone


Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera


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Posted On Friday, 04.27.2012 / 3:20 PM

By Jerry Brown -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Postseason travel schedule has been easier on Preds

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Last year, the Nashville Predators earned plenty of frequent flyer miles in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

After flying back and forth to Anaheim twice before taking out the Ducks in six games, Nashville had to go to the Western Conference's western-most outpost -- Vancouver -- twice. They fell in six games, but if the Predators had advanced, a couple of trips to San Jose would have been waiting.

This year is a little different. With home ice in the first round, Nashville needed only one quick flight to Detroit in dispatching the Red Wings in five games. And the Predators have had an entire week to rest and prepare for their Western Conference Semifinal series beginning in Phoenix tonight.

"Two hours in a plane instead of 20," Nashville center Mike Fisher said. "That's pretty nice."

Nashville coach Barry Trotz said this season has been much less hectic on his team.

"Last year we battled right to the end to get in the playoffs," Trotz said. "Then we go back and forth to Anaheim, back and forth to Vancouver and if we ever got past the Canucks, we would have gotten San Jose and probably set a record for miles flown in one playoff year. It was pretty taxing."

"But we've had a lot of time off this year. We're fresh and we're healthy and we're ready to go."
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Posted On Friday, 04.27.2012 / 2:50 PM

By Jerry Brown -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Gill set to return for Predators

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Nashville defenseman Hal Gill, who missed the entire first round with a lower-body injury, has been cleared to play and will be in the lineup Friday when the Predators open their Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Phoenix Coyotes.

Gill hasn’t played since blocking a shot from Sheldon Souray of the Dallas Stars on Apr. 5, but was back to blocking shots in practice this week and will be paired with Francis Bouillon, putting the Predators at full strength.
 
“I’m good to go,” Gill said. “I appreciated the boys giving me the rest and now it’s my turn to get in there.”

Gill said he tossed a turned a bit Thursday night and will have to get the playoff tension out early to catch up with everyone else.

“Sleep was tough last night. You get excited, you get geared up,” he said. “But it’s a good feeling. If you go to a horror movie, you want to be scared. If you’re in the playoffs you want to be excited and I’m definitely there.”

Gill is the latest of a handful of Predators who have added a new twist to the playoff beard tradition – sporting a playoff Mohawk on Friday. It was started by defenseman Kevin Klein during the playoff drive and several teammates have joined in.
 
Nashville center Mike Fisher said he won’t be joining the crowd on that one.

“Having a good look at these guys … I’ll stick with the beard,” he said.

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Posted On Friday, 04.27.2012 / 1:37 PM

By Jerry Brown -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Projected lineups for Game 1

The Coyotes have only one question mark in the lineup. Defenseman David Schlemko started over veteran Adrian Aucoin in the series-clinching win over Chicago after Aucoin had played in the first five games.

Here is what the lineups for both Phoenix and the Nashville Predators could look like for Game 1 of this Western Conference Semifinals series:

Predators

Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Gabriel Bourque - David Legwand - Alexander Rudlov
Andrei Kostitsyn - Nick Spaling - Patric Hornqvist
Brandon Yip - Jordan Tootoo - Craig Smith

Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Roman Josi - Kevin Klein
Francis Bouillon - Hal Gill

Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback

Coyotes

Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Mikkel Boedker - Antoine VermetteLauri Korpikoski
Taylor Pyatt - Boyd Gordon - Shane Doan
KyleChipchura - Daymond Langkow - Gilbert Brule

Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - David Schlemko
Rostisalv Klesla - Michal Rozsival

Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera

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Posted On Thursday, 04.26.2012 / 10:26 PM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Predators series blog

Coyotes will be rested for Game 1

Not only did the Phoenix Coyotes win their first playoff series since 1987 when they eliminated the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday night, they earned themselves some much-needed rest.

After beating the Hawks in a grueling six-game series that saw the first five go into overtime, Phoenix got a welcome three-day break before the Nashville Predators come to the desert to open their Western Conference Semifinal series on Friday night.

Instead of practicing on Wednesday, the Coyotes held a team meeting instead. A few players took the ice while others received treatment or worked out. Coach Dave Tippett put his team through a practice on Thursday in preparation for the series opener on Friday night. He anticipates having everyone available for Game 1 except suspended forward Raffi Torres.

The four remaining teams in the West have a combined total of four appearances in the Stanley Cup Final -- three by St. Louis from 1968-70 and one by Los Angeles in 1993. Neither the Coyotes nor the Predators have gotten past the second round.

But both Phoenix and Nashville are here after eliminating Original Six teams -- Chicago and Detroit. The Predators have been off since beating the Wings in five games last Friday.

"It helps the grassroots. You get excitement," Tippett said of the turnover on top of the conference. "New blood in there, the more teams we can get to that element, I think that's great for the League."

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Quote of the Day

Not only is it a great idea, but if you don't [start using analytics] you're going to fall behind. You have to be on the cutting edge. It was [Arizona Coyotes assistant general manager] Darcy Regier who said, 'If you didn't invent it, you have to be the second- or third-best copier, because if you're fourth or fifth you've got no chance.'

— Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock on his interest in advanced statistical analysis