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Western Conference Semi Finals: Game 5 – Nashville @ Phoenix


Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images

It’s the inevitable cliché. The Predators “back is against the wall…one game at a time…sudden death” moment. Nashville dropped a heart-breaker Friday night against the Phoenix Coyotes by a score of 1-0. It was the kind of game that most talking heads on the networks and covering both teams said would be the epitome of a series in two defensively minded teams.

As much as the Fans of the Fang can gripe and complain (myself included) about the “intent to whistle” calls, Hornqvist missed a golden chance on a puck sitting three feet in front of the net only to fire it over the crossbar; similar to Craig Smith’s open-net gaffe earlier in the season.

It is make or break time for the Predators and they have shown that they can win three straight in the playoffs by beating Detroit in games 3-5. Andrei Kostitsyn and Alexander Radulov are expected to be in the lineup as the Predators will need all the offensive pressure they can muster to solve the riddle of Mike Smith. Rusty Klesla will be out of the lineup for Phoenix serving a 1 game suspension for his boarding of Matt Halischuk.

Game time is at 9 P.M. Central and can be viewed on NBC Sports Network. Pete Weber and Terry Crisp will have the call on the Predators flagship station 102.5 the Game.

Phoenix Leads Series 3-1

The Keys for Phoenix: Continue to bank on the steady stay-at-home defense and the rock-solid goaltending of Mike Smith. A hot goalie is the kryptonite of any hard-charging offensive squad in the playoffs, just ask the freshly swept St. Louis Blues. Mike Smith has been the difference in many of these games coming up huge when called upon and limiting any rebounds for would-be screeners to knock home (Hint hint Patric Hornqvist). His puck-handling, although one of the best in the league, has been sketchy on occasion, but his saves are game-stealing.

The Phoenix defensive scheme is a trap game played to perfection similar to the Cup-winning New Jersey Devils of a decade ago. Phoenix rarely gives up odd-man rushes and the Predators have for the most part been kept to the outside and shooting lanes are closed down the minute they open up. Sticks in the lane have also been the staple of the Coyotes disrupting passes and breakout attempts while the Predators look to set up for another shift or personnel change.

Face-offs once again are a key to Phoenix’s success and an ill-timed fight between Gaustad and Chipchura saw Nashville’s best face-off specialist in the box for 5+ minutes and later not in the game possibly due to his hands being injured in the fight. Phoenix has owned the dot at the most crucial times in their defensive zone and Nashville has been unable to come away with clean wins that could develop into scoring chances. Playing in front of a “White Out” home crowd with a chance to clinch their first ever Conference Finals berth will have the Desert Dogs fans in a frenzy.

The Keys for Nashville: Take the crowd out early by scoring first; scoring first being the biggest key of all. In every game the Predators have played in this year’s playoffs, the team that scored first won…EVERY SINGLE GAME!! The Predators know they have to take a rabid crowd out of the equation and what better way than to draw first blood and with that kind of advantage Nashville can hopefully continue the trend of playoff game wins by tallying first.

Pekka Rinne has played superb in the last two games keeping his glove hand strong and not allowing many rebound chances. The fluky goal by Doan was the only one to get by him and he has only let in 1 goal in the last 2 games. If Rinne can keep up this kind of play, Nashville still has a decent shot to steal one in the desert and come back home to try and push this series to a game 7.

Another factor that can help Rinne is goal support. After their stint on the bench (1 game for violation of team rules and a 2nd game by coach’s decision) Alexander Radulov, the Predators leading point producer of the playoffs and Andrei Kostitsyn who is tied with Legwand and Bourque for the team lead in goals in the playoffs are eager to be placed back into the lineup. The match-ups by having these two offensive-minded forwards back and the speed and sniping ability they bring will help the Predators immensely to keep the cannons focused squarely on Mike Smith. Even if Kostitsyn and Radulov get top defensive attention, it may be enough for the top line of Fisher/Hornqvist/Erat to bury some of their chances as they have been MIA this series.

Do or die…that is what faces the Nashville Predators and as Coach Trotz stated “we have to win one game, that is our only focus right now…one game”


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