NASHVILLE – Three times in less than seven minutes during the second period of Friday night's 1-0 loss to Phoenix, the Nashville Predators had golden opportunities to get on the scoreboard.
Not only did they not score, they didn't even hit the net.
In the Predators' eyes, that was where Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinal series was lost.
"I thought we generated lots of chances, just didn't find the back of the net in the end," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "Take away the first period -- [in the] second and third period I thought we played very well. Got some quality chances and couldn't find the back of the net."
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By the second intermission, the Predators ratio of missed shots-to-shots on goal was 11-to-15. Phoenix's was 10-19. But it wasn't just that the Preds missed the net. It was that they missed wide-open nets.
It started with 14:12 left in the second period – the most glaring opportunity of the game. Coyotes goalie Mike Smith misplayed the puck in front of the net, and with Preds left wing Gabriel Bourque in hard on the forecheck, the puck came to Patric Hornqvist, Nashville's leading goal-scorer during the regular season. With the entire upper half of the net open, Hornqvist fired his shot from 12 feet over the crossbar.
"I tried to get it up over him," Hornqvist said. "I'm so close and he's so big, it's hard to get it over him and, yeah, missed the net."
With 11:20 left in the period, Colin Wilson faked his way into a wide-open shot in the slot. He wristed it wide of the net from 20 feet.
"It was frustrating a little bit, I guess," Wilson said. "I wish I could've had a couple and I'm sure my linemates were thinking the same."
About four minutes later, David Legwand came down the left side and fed a pass through the slot. The puck bounced – players on both sides complained about the heat, which seemed to affect the ice conditions – and Hornqvist hooked his redirect try wide of the right post.
"When Leggie give it to me backdoor, I didn't really see it," Hornqvist said. "It was bouncing and couldn't finish, so that happens and now we have to get three games in a row."
Nashville's last good chance of the game came with 7:12 left in regulation. On a power play, the Preds edged the puck over the goal line during a scrum -- but the goal was instantly waved off, as the referee ruled that the whistle had blown and the play was dead before the puck crossed the goal line. It was the second straight game and third time in of the Stanley Cup Playoffs that the Preds had a goal disallowed.
Smith said he thought the Coyotes deserved credit for forcing the Preds to miss their attempts. He stopped 25 shots to earn his second career playoff shutout, both this year.
"I thought we did a good job to pressure them to make those bad shots," he said. "It's one thing to have time and you get a good look and the shot away, but we forced them tonight where they had to get put in situations to get rid of the puck quick and sometimes when you shoot the puck quick, you can't get it on target. My (defense) had an outstanding night, back pressure was great and find a way to sneak one out."
In a game that was so close and in which Nashville could not record a single goal, Trotz was asked about his decision not to dress Alexander Radulov (team-high six postseason points) and Andrei Kostitsyn (four points). Both players were suspended for Game 3 for a violation of team rules; Trotz said they were held out Friday as a hockey decision.
"My rationale, I told you my rationale this morning," Trotz said, as he explained that the Game 3 lineup got the job done with a 2-0 win and earned another shot. "How will I defend it? I don't think I have to defend it. I mean, the guys got chances, we created chances. A guy like Colin Wilson, who was very good, had more points than Kostitsyn for the year, so I don't think that's much of a trade-off. You can say the ‘what-ifs.' Maybe they could've made a difference, but we'll never know that. The guys that played [Friday] played well and created lots of chance. They just have to bury one of them."
Wilson said the game was extremely tight-checking.
"Definitely less space, but I'm happy with the chances we had," he said. "We shot a bunch wide. We just have to start hitting the net."
If they fail in their next chance, they will have run out of time.