The Nashville Predators returned to Nashville and the Honkeytonk, also known as Bridgestone Arena, and found their rhythm by beating the Phoenix Coyotes 2-0 for their first win in their semi final series. The Coyotes lead the series 2-1 with the next game Friday night in Nashville.
The Predators scored 2 first period goals, and the strong goaltending of Pekka Rinne made those two markers stand up as Rinne recorded his first playoff shutout.
The Predators opened the scoring at 8:10 of the first period on a gift from Coyotes netminder Mike Smith. Smith went to play the puck behind the net and slid the puck toward a Coyotes defenseman.Gabriel Bourque was in hard on the forecheck and wrestled the puck away and passed to David Legwand in the slot. Legwand buried the puck past Smith, who was scrambling to get back in his crease to give the Predators a 1-0 lead and send the partisan crowd into a frenzy.
Just 66 seconds later, Marty Erat fought for the puck along the boards in the Coyote zone and won the puck battle. He got the puck to Sergei Kostitsyn who appeared to have a shot from the inside the face off circle to Smith's left. He instead passed to Mike Fisher, who was alone at the side of the net, and Fisher chipped the puck over Smith to give the Predators a 2-0 lead at 9:16 of the first period.
Although the Coyotes out shot the Predators 10-8 in the first period, they never really threatened Rinne. The Coyotes did hit a post with one shot, but the Predators did a good job of keeping the front of the net clear and forcing the Coyotes to the outside.
The second period was a scoreless 20 minutes, but it was notable for the Predators aggressive forecheck and their ability to keep the Coyotes back on their heels. The Coyotes possess a group of forwards that can be explosive, but the Predators did a good job of limiting their offensive efforts, keeping the Coyotes on the wall for much of the period. Most of their shots were from the outside and not from the dangerous scoring areas. Although the Coyotes out shot the Predators 12-8 in the second period, the Predators continued to play god defense, blocking shots and forcing the Coyotes to the outside.
In the third period, the Predators continued to forecheck aggressively and put pressure on the Coyotes. Their effort continued to thwart the Coyotes offense and minimize their scoring chances. The Coyotes had a good opportunity to get back into the game as Sergei Kostitsyn was called for hooking at 12:59 and Marty Erat was called for tripping at 14:19. With 41 seconds of a 5 on 3, the Coyotes had a prime opportunity to get back into the game.
Instead, the Predators PK did a good job of getting into the shooting lanes and continued to keep the Coyotes to the outside. When the puck got in on Rinne, he was able to snuff out the scoring chances, and the Predators seized the momentum with an outstanding penalty kill.
The third period ended with Smith out of the net for an extra attacker in the final 2 minutes, but the Coyotes could not generate any serious threats, and as the clock wound down, the Predators had captured a 2-0 win and had energized the team and the fans.
The Predators played this game without Andrei Kostitsyn and Alexander Radulov, who were suspended for this game for a violation of team rules. They are eligible to return for game 4 Friday night.
I do not expect them to play.
The Predators won tonight with grit, determination, and a balls to the wall effort. As Marty Erat said after the game, "We played for 60 minutes and we played with some balls."
It is going to take that same kind of effort Friday night against a very god Coyotes team. They will not lay down, and they will come back with determination.
To come with any less of an effort will be disappointing for the Predators.
The effort tonight was a total team effort. All lines contributed, and more importantly, everyone wearing a gold sweater played Predator hockey.
One game doesn't make a series. The Predators trail 2 games to 1.
But the Predators showed tonight that when they play Predator hockey, they are hard to beat.
My three stars:
1. Pekka Rinne
2. Mike Fisher
3. David Legwand