It was just two weeks ago that Predators head coach Barry Trotz was explaining how his team was stringing together playoff victories en route to a 4-1 series win over the Detroit Red Wings.
“We’re finding ways to win,” he said. “This group has always been resilient. That’s part of our DNA. We find ways, we dig in.”
But suddenly, the Predators squad that pulled off numerous regular season comebacks and was at its most opportune in the Detroit series, is seeing the tables turned by its second-round opponent, the Phoenix Coyotes.
“[Phoenix] has played solid defensively, they’re getting good goaltending and they are getting timely goals as well,” Predators forward Nick Spaling said Saturday. “It has been a series with a lot of bounces for both sides.”
So far, those bounces have primarily benefited the Coyotes, as evidenced by Phoenix’s 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 5 is Monday night in Glendale, Ariz.
“Playoffs are a strange animal,” Trotz said Saturday via media conference call. “If you look at the Detroit series, we got some breaks that we were able to grab some momentum and go forward. In this series, Phoenix has played well, just as we did in the Detroit series, but they’ve got some of the breaks and they’ve capitalized on some of those breaks, and we haven’t been able to capitalize on ours.”
And in a series as tight as this Western Conference Semifinal is—there have been no lead changes through four games—bounces can make all the difference. Trotz stated that he believes his team is getting enough chances to win hockey games; they just aren’t turning those chances into goals right now. And time is running out.
“Let’s just say what it is: Our guys have to bear down on chances,” Trotz said. “Personnel wise, the guys who had the puck on their stick for good chances are guys that are good goal scorers in this league. We just have to bury our chances. Colin Wilson, Mike Fisher had some great looks. Patric Hornqvist had multiple looks. Those are all pretty skilled players—Marty Erat, I can go down the list. Our best looks were by our best players. We need to finish here.”
Hornqvist said as much when he spoke with reporters after the 1-0 Game 4 loss. “I have to score,” he said, referring to a prime chance he had early in the second period. “If I get that opportunity, I have to put one in the back of the net to get us to overtime.”
The good news for the Predators is that bounces are apparently quite fickle. As quickly as they stopped going Nashville’s way, they could easily reverse course for Game 5 and beyond. The Preds, a confident bunch all season, have to continue to set themselves up to make their own luck, so to speak, with a sound defensive game and a renewed determination to finish the chances that they do get.
“Until they put the dirt over us, we’re not out of anything,” Trotz said. “I have a lot of faith in this team. We have played well enough. We have played well enough we could easily be up three to one—I shouldn’t say easily, but it could be three-one for us. We haven’t found ways to win. We have to go into Phoenix and find a way to win. We are very capable of it. We’re going to need our best players to be our best players and step up.”