The Nashville Predators got back into their Western Conference semifinal series against the Phoenix Coyotes in a big way with their Game 3 victory — playing "Predators Hockey" for the first time in the second round, according to coach Barry Trotz.
Typically, a coach would be apt to go with the same lineup after an emphatic playoff win, but the Predators aren't in a typical spot: Their leading postseason scorer, Alex Radulov, missed Game 3 along with forward Andrei Kostitsyn for a curfew violation last weekend.
Would Trotz sit a player with six points in seven games for Game 4, after his penance in missing Game 3?
Yes, actually. According to John Glennon of The Tennessean (via On The Forecheck), Trotz informed Radulov that the team will stick with the lineup that won, and the coach later told the media that Kostitsyn will sit again as well.
Via Ryan Porth at Smashville 24/7, Trotz says it's not about their punishment:
"The mix of players works better sometimes," he said. "Last game, I don't think there's anybody, after watching the first two games, that wouldn't have said that's more of a Predators type of team, type of style, Predator focus — all that.
"I'm not holding out because it's a longer suspension. They were able to come in, I talked to them, it's really a coach's decision. We feel the group got it done last game and they'll hopefully do it tonight."
On Thursday, Trotz lamented this decision.
"I know it's going to be tough if I do anything. The guys that got in, got the job done," said Trotz on Thursday. "I will tell you this with Rads: They both knew that they made a mistake, but they both care about what happens with the team. Whatever decision I make, they might not like it but they will support it."
Trotz will take heat for this from those that see it as a stubborn extension of their discipline, which it isn't. It's a coach that saw his team roused by the "suspensions," playing their best game of the series in the process. Giving this group an opportunity to build is laudable, and the kind of move that has made Trotz a perennial coach of the year candidate. If the Predators lose Game 4 without them ... well, it's a risk worth taking.
Whether you saw the scratches of Radulov and Kostitsyn as a moral stand or managerial opportunism to shock the funk off a slumping team — and we still tend to believe the latter — the fact remains that if the Predators fall in a 3-1 hole going back to Glendale, they'll have two damn good players ready to return to the lineup.
Provided they make their bed check, of course.