NASHVILLE – There’s the show, and there’s the show of force.
This town had the show Wednesday night: Charlie Daniels and the fiddle in the first intermission, the cute girls shaking their booties during the pre-game warm-up, and of course the garish gold jerseys that call to mind the Harold Snepsts era of the Canucks. All show.
But then there’s the show of force. And Wednesday, finally, the Predators had that. They were rude, efficient, beautifully boring but never boorish. They were defiant and steadfast, even after the game when coach Barry Trotz called out a TV commentator he said he heard during the intermission of the Rangers-Capitals game. The commentator, whom Trotz didn’t name, supposedly questioned his decision to bench Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn for violating team rules.
“He thought I was totally wrong,” Trotz said. “He would let them go out all night and still play them, and that’s not how we do it here.”
[Nicholas J. Cotsonika: Rangers-Caps 3 OT was playoff hockey at its best]
Maybe this franchise came into being in the Internet era, but the Preds made things black and white in their 2-0 shutout of the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 3. This was throwback Predators hockey.
So naturally it was led by two throwback players: David Legwand – an original Predator, drafted in 1998 – and Jordin Tootoo, who didn’t know he was playing Wednesday until he saw his name on the dry-erase board only moments before the opening faceoff.
Together they have played more than 1,300 games for Nashville, Legwand being the star and Tootoo being the slugger. They both made an impact for the team on a night when it was most needed – on a night after Radulov and Kostitsyn were suspended for violating team rules. Those two newcomers may have heralded a newer era in Predators hockey – a flashier time, perhaps. You know, the show.
But with them gone, Trotz went with Tootoo, who had suited up for only one other playoff game this spring. He’s a slow skater and not a natural scorer, but the guy can plow, and that’s exactly what he did on his first shift of the night. You know, the show of force.
“He played so well tonight,” said Martin Erat, another longtime Predator. “He just gave us the jump we needed. They had to look around knowing he was on the ice.”
And really, what would you expect from a guy from Nunavut who grew up killing caribou for food and whose Inuit name, Kudluk, means “Thunder”?
“My game is bringing energy, being physical, grinding,” said Tootoo after the game. “I know what my job is.”
He also knew what his job was not: being stupid. When Derek Morris cross-checked Tootoo in the back of the head along the boards late in the game, Tootoo simply went down in a heap. Morris was waved into the bin and Tootoo skated away.
“Toots was awesome tonight,” said Legwand, without even being asked about his teammate. “That’s Toots’ game.”
Legwand was pretty good, too, scoring the crucial first goal in a game the Predators had to win to get back in a series Phoenix led 2-0. Both of the game’s goals came in the first 10 minutes, and both came with the home team buzzing incessantly around Mike Smith. The Phoenix goaltender looks about seven feet tall in net – King Kong swatting away planes in Tokyo – but by halfway through the first, he was sprawling and a little unsteady. Once the Predators got a lead, they squashed pretty much every Coyote threat before it started, and goaltender Pekka Rinne wasn’t tested until he brilliantly fended off a 5-on-3 Phoenix power play in the third.
After the win, Legwand, Tootoo and Erat all made it pretty clear that the team needed to go back to the game that transported it from expansion punching bag to suffocating Stanley Cup contender. As Tootoo said, “We just want to get back to the basics of Predator hockey.”
In other words: forecheck like a demon from the opening faceoff and race back to beat the counterattack. Simple as that.
“We just have to have heart,” said Erat. “Have heart on the forecheck and be responsible. That’s what we’re built for.”
Was that a shot at the two missing players? In a way, it doesn’t matter. Whether those guys take the ice or not, everyone in gold is going to have to play this way on Friday and beyond. The Radulovs have to play like the Tootoos, or nobody’s gonna be playing past next week.
Asked about the Game 4 lineup, Trotz said, "It's very hard to change it if everybody is committed like they were. It was a statement."
The show will go on in Nashville, thanks to the show of force.
Other popular content on the Yahoo! network:
• Dan Wetzel: New Orleans Saints get off relatively lightly with player bounty suspensions
• Adrian Wojnarowski: Kobe Bryant feels like a 'brand new' man in Lakers' playoff push
• Y! TV: Lamar Odom, Khloe Kardashian 'pulled the plug' on their reality show