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Predators look past drama, try to get back in series

by John Manasso

NASHVILLE -- By suspending wings Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn for Game 3 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series with Phoenix on Wednesday at Bridgestone Arena (9 p.m. ET, CNBC, TSN), the Nashville Predators will be without two of their most skilled and most productive players in these Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Both players are pure scorers, known for deadly wrist shots. In their place, coach Barry Trotz said, will be two of the following three: rookie Craig Smith, veteran Jordin Tootoo and Matt Halischuk, who has 121 regular season games to his credit. While they might not possess the high-end skill of their Eastern European counterparts, Halischuk and Smith had 15 and 14 goals, respectively, while Tootoo, who had a career year with 30 points, brings more of the raw, physical element.

"I think we need to play a different style than we did in Game 1 and Game 2 -- period. Because we weren't ourselves. We need to get back to the way we play, and that's defense-first and our offense will piggy-back off of that." -- Shea Weber

Predators captain Shea Weber was asked if the lineup changes would necessitate a stylistic change. He said the Predators, down 0-2 in the series, need to change their style, irrespective of who is in the lineup.

"I think we need to play a different style than we did in Game 1 and Game 2 -- period," he said. "Because we weren't ourselves. We need to get back to the way we play, and that's defense-first and our offense will piggy-back off of that."

What the Predators did not need in the midst of their attempt to rally was drama. But Weber does not think the suspension will act as a distraction.

"No, I think we're past that," he said. "We're putting it behind us. It happened and there's nothing we can do to take it back."

When Nashville was playing its best hockey of the season -- from Dec. 28 through the end of January, as the Preds went 13-2 -- it was with Halischuk, Tootoo and Smith in the lineup. Smith played in 72 games, Halischuk in 73 and Tootoo in 77.

In the first round, Tootoo complained publicly to The Tennessean newspaper about not being in the lineup. He has 37 career playoff games under his belt -- all with Nashville -- but only one this postseason.

"It's what I've been waiting for," Tootoo said. "I'm battling every day in practice. I come to work and prepare myself to get back into the lineup. Until that happens all I can do is keep preparing and be mentally focused. Physically, I feel great."


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Kostitsyn and Radulov are relative newcomers to Nashville. Kostitsyn was acquired at the trading deadline from Montreal for a second-round pick and Radulov returned from the KHL on March 12 against Pittsburgh after four seasons away. The Preds stumbled a bit through that final stretch, as they tried to achieve some chemistry with so many new acquisitions, which also included center Paul Gaustad and defenseman Hal Gill.

Consequently, coach Barry Trotz said he did not think the Preds would suffer from any chemistry issues on Wednesday from the decision to hold out Kostitsyn and Radulov.

"Your group of 25, 26 guys is always like a family," he said. "You're always going to do the right thing with the group. Chemistry-wise, the group that's in there, this is the group's that been together for 20-something games and playoffs. Some of the members going in have been with the group all year."

Said All-Star defenseman Ryan Suter: "We won all year with everyone -- it's going to take everyone to continue to win. Tomorrow night -- whoever is going to play -- 20 guys that are in the lineup have to come out and play the way we're capable of playing."

Trotz said the situation was no different to that of Phoenix, which was missing two players for a time in Game 1 to injury: Rostislav Klesla, who was hit in the face by a puck, and Michal Rozsival, who wasn't in the lineup after he was checked face-first into the boards in Game 6 of Phoenix's first-round series.

Trotz also said Nashville is facing a true test of adversity and referenced how last year Western Conference champion Vancouver and eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston were pushed to seven games in the opening round. He talked about playing a 200-foot game, taking care of the puck on both offense and defense, and being relentless -- elements that are integral to how the Predators play, but which have eluded them thus far.

"I do know this: Every team that has success in the playoffs, they have to go through some adversity," he said. "We haven't had to go through a whole lot of adversity yet. This a good test. When you go through adversity it really reveals your character. It reveals what kind of character you do have, so we're going to find out what kind of character we do have."

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