The Nashville Predators looked to even their second round series with the Phoenix Coyotes in the second game of this semi final match up.
The Predators needed to have sense of desperation and intensity in this contest. Going back to Nashville down 2-0 would not bode well for the Predators.
The Predators were once again going to rely on Pekka Rinne in net, while the Coyotes had their stalwart Mike Smith manning the pipes.
Both teams started the game skating well and throwing shots on net, but both goaltenders were able to handle the offensive thrust.
The Coyotes struck first at 8:32 of the first period as Keith Yandle took the puck just outside the right face off circle and found Antoine Vermette streaking to the net. Yandle’s pass across the slot was right on the tape of Vermette’s stick and he had a wide open net in which to deposit the puck. Vermette beat Marty Erat, who was late getting back in coverage and left his man wide open.
Phoenix seized momentum and were peppering Rinne with shots and being much more physical than the Predators. The Predators looked as if they were just holding on and trying to survive the Coyotes pressure and get out of the period.
That changed Kevin Klein took the puck through the neutral zone and went into the Phoenix zone. As Klein was being checked to the ice, he slid a pass to Andrei Kostitsyn. AK46 broke in alone on Smith and buried a forehand to tie the game at 1 at 17:13.
This was a huge goal by the Predators to take back momentum and give them some confidence. Responding as they did shows the fight in this group, and they will need it against the tough Coyotes.
The first period ended tied at 1. The Coyotes out shot the Predators 12-9.
The Coyotes took a 2-1 lead at 3:47 of the second period as Radim Vrbata drove to the net ans was forced wide by the Roman Josi. Vrbata centered the puck from behind the net through the legs of Rinne and onto the stick of Martin Hanzal, who beat Kevin Klein driving to the net. Hanzal had an open net to shoot the puck into as Rinne could not recover after sliding to the post on Vrbata’s drive.
Both Coyotes goals had occurred because the Coyotes beat Predator defenders to the net. This was not the type of hockey that the Predators had typically played, and if they did not correct these mistakes, then this series would end quickly.
The Coyotes stymied the Predators, who had a great flurry in the offensive zone but could not get the puck past Smith. The Coyotes got control of the puck and came in the zone 2 on 2. A shot fluttered over the and the puck came to David Legwand, who inexplicably threw the puck over his own net. Rinne certainly did not expect that, and he was bumped off balance as the puck landed on the tape of Radim Vrbata. Rinne was sprawled on the ice and Vrbata flipped the puck into the top of the net to give the Coyotes a 3-1 lead at 7:05.
There are no words to describe the stupidity of the play by Legwand.
Ray Whitney was called for slashing, and the Predators power play was dominant, controlling the puck for the entire power play in the Phoenix zone. As the power play was winding down, Ryan Suter took a shot from the point and Patric Hornqvist deflected the puck past Smith to make it 3-2 at 11:20.
The Coyotes answered the Predators goal almost immediately as Shane Doan drove down the wing past Roman Josi and put a shot on Rinne that he deflected out into the slot. Taylor Pyatt was able to drive the slot unmolested and he batted the rebound out of mid-air past Rinne to give the Coyotes a 4-2 lead at 11:50.
The inability of the Predators to keep Phoenix from scoring after their tallies was frustrating to say the least. In this game, the Predators defense had been uncharacteristically loose and sloppy, and it had cost them.
Down 4-2 at the end of the period, the Predators were facing a desperate 20 minutes of hockey. They had been out shot 31-24 and had ceded the physical play to the Coyotes. Their defense was woeful to this point, and the hole they had dug was deep.
It would be a blinding flash of the obvious to say that the Predators had to play their best 20 minutes of the season to have a chance to win this game.
The Predators started the third period 4 on 4, but quickly got a power play. With the Predators moving the puck, Ryan Suter got open and blasted a shot off the shoulder of Smith and into the net just 53 seconds into the period.
THAT was certainly the start the Predators needed.
Now they had to play solid defense and play their style of hockey.
That didn’t happen. The Coyotes once again answered the Predators goal as Derek Morris took a shot that was re-directed by Shane Doan to make it 5-3 Coyotes at 3:36. The play was set up by a clean face off win in the Predators zone by Antoine Vermette.
The Predators inability to keep the Coyotes from scoring when they get close is a matter of desire, in my opinion, and effort. To this point in the series, the Coyotes have outworked the Predators and their effort has been rewarded with goals.
As much as the Predators needed offensive push to get back into this game, they were thwarted by the forecheck and the work of the Coyotes. The pressure the Coyotes put on the Predators suffocated any offense the Predators tried to generate. After the initial goal to open the period, the Predators rarely pressured Smith, and appeared to be completely knocked out of kilter by the Coyotes forecheck.
Pekka Rinne was pulled with 2:13 to go in the game, and even with the extra attacker, the Predators were still being outworked by the Coyotes and could not set up their offense. The Coyotes beat Predators to the puck and out manned the Predators on the puck. There was absolutely no offensive flow at all from the Predators.
David Legwand took a penalty with 46 seconds remaining and Boyd Gordon took a coincidental high sticking penalty. Nashville now had a 5 on 4 with Rinne pulled, and still the Predators could not get their offense going.
The Predators could not threaten Smith, much less score, and the game ended with Coyotes dominating the Predators and the scoreboard 5-3.
This game was particularly disappointing for the Predators, as their defense was horrific. The guys in front of Pekka Rinne owe him a big apology for their sloppy play.
Also disappointing is the fact that throughout the game, the Predators were outworked. The Coyotes forecheck dominated the Predators and they had no answer. The Predators have long prided themselves on their work ethic, and tonight, the Coyotes showed the Predators what a real work ethic looks like.
Having dug a 2-0 hole, the Predators now face a gut check. They can come back to Nashville and play Predator hockey and make a commitment to outwork the Coyotes. If they do, they can capture the games on home ice in front of their raucous crowd.
If they do not, then the Predators are looking at embarrassingly getting swept with this kind of play.
The choice is yours, boys.
My three stars:
1. Radim Vrbata
2. Antoine Vermette
3. Ryan Suter
About the Author: A native Nashvillian that grew up with minor league hockey, I'm now a devoted Predators fan and NHL follower. I have had the privilege of allowing my children to grow up watching the Predators and seeing the joy on their face when they are at a game. By day, I am a partner in an independent investment management company in the Nashville area. I played collegiate football and graduated from the University of South Carolina and graduated from the LSU graduate School of Banking. So yes, there are real true southern hockey fans in these non-traditional markets.