Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Blum has something to prove in 2012-2013 season

Heading into the 2011-2012 season, the Nashville Predators faced some uncertainty on the blueline. Cody Franson and Shane O'Brien were no longer with the team, and it seemed like the Predators were on their way to having perhaps their most questionable defensive roster in recent memory. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter were obviously the top pairing. Veteran defenseman Kevin Klein was sure to take a spot on the second defensive pairing. There was another defenseman that was a lock to be on the opening night roster, however, and that was Jonathon Blum.

After playing in 23 regular season games with the Predators in the 2010-2011 season, plus 12 games in the playoffs, Blum had high expectations placed upon him heading into the 2011-2012 season. He was drafted by the Predators in the first round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft , becoming the first California-born player to be selected in the first round of the draft. It seemed like he was poised to have a breakout year after his solid play in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Blum's 2011-2012 season with the Predators turned out to be disappointing and short-lived. He played in just 33 games for the Predators before being permanently sent down to the Milwaukee Admirals. Blum was a minus-14 in his 33-game stint with Nashville and didn't seem to be anywhere near the same player that he was the prior season.

Things didn't go so well at first in Milwaukee with Blum either, but he seemed to begin to find his game again as the season went along. He ended the AHL portion of his season with 26 points in 48 games played and was a minus-11.

Given the uncertain future of impending free agent defensemen like Ryan Suter, Hal Gill and Francis Bouillon, Blum could potentially have a big opportunity to earn his way back onto Nashville's roster to start next season. His talent and hockey sense are very apparent, but he just wasn't able to put it all together for the Predators last season for some reason.

Blum is a skilled, puck-moving defenseman that is a very intelligent player when he's on his game. That's what made him successful when he was first called up to play in Nashville during the last quarter of the 2010-2011 season. His physicals skills were on par with NHL caliber defensemen, but the mental aspect of his game allowed him to have success at a young age. He always seemed to be in the right position.

If Blum is able to get back to the style of play that made him successful when he first was called up to the NHL level, he will put himself in a very good position to make the NHL roster out of training camp next season. He has all of the physical attributes. He has pretty good speed, a good shot and can position himself to take away quality scoring chances from the opposition. He just has to put those qualities together consistently.

(Photo Credit: Leanne Charles)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Stanley Cup Final preview

The 2012 Stanley Cup Final begins on Wednesday night at the Prudential Center as the New Jersey Devils host the Los Angeles Kings. It will be the fifth time in the past 17 seasons that the Devils will make an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. They have won the Stanley Cup three times in their previous four trips.

Los Angeles has been rolling through the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They have posted an 8-0 on the road in the playoffs so far and have only lost a combined two games through the first three rounds. Dustin Brown has led the charge for his team in the playoffs so far, posting 16 points through 14 postseason games.

New Jersey's big guns have been their strongest players in the playoffs so far. Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise have led the way offensively for the Devils, while Martin Brodeur has been excellent in net. New Jersey has a lot of offensive firepower, and they are a complete team that can win in several different ways on any given night.

As good as Brodeur, who is arguably the greatest goaltender of all time, has been for the Devils, Jonathan Quick has been even better for the Kings. Quick leads all goaltenders in save percentage(.946) and Goals Against Average(1.54) in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs and has simply been sensational. He has proved that he is one of the best goalies in the NHL and he will have to play like he played for the first three rounds to keep the high-powered New Jersey offense at bay.

Los Angeles has been playing at an almost unprecedented level throughout the first three rounds of the playoffs. Will they be able to continue that trend against the Devils? New Jersey has been able to score timely goals in the playoffs to put themselves in the position to win their fourth Stanley Cup championship. Will they be able to get through the tenacious forecheck of the Kings and get quality scoring opportunities on Quick?

Prediction: I expect a fast-paced and entertaining series. Both teams have plenty of speed to burn and both teams have a pretty high amount of skill on their team. Brodeur and Quick have been the main reason that these two teams have made it to the Stanley Cup Final. That goaltending matchup will be the difference in the series. Los Angeles will win the series in six games and will win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. With the way that Los Angeles has been playing in the playoffs so far, I don't see how anyone could beat them.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Smith now knows what to expect at NHL level

At the beginning of the 2011-2012 season, rookie forward Craig Smith was stealing the headlines for the Nashville Predators. He scored a goal in each of his first two NHL games, and put up 14 points in the first 15 games of the season.

Nashville drafted Smith in the fourth round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. He spent two years at the University of Wisconsin where he had 76 points in 82 games. Smith really made a name for himself in the 2011 IIHF World Championship when he played for Team USA. He had six points in seven games played for the U.S. Men's National Team, and he made the decision to turn pro in the summer of 2011.

Coming into training camp, Smith had high expectations for himself. It's very rare to see a rookie make the NHL roster straight out of training camp, especially in Nashville. The Predators like to let their players develop in Milwaukee before they are called up to the NHL. Smith wasn't about to accept that path, however.

"Everybody wants to prove themselves and everybody wants to make the team, and I think if you're setting your expectations lower than that you're cheating yourself," Smith said before training camp. "I'm extremely excited to be here. It's my first camp, and by no means am I coming in here and accepting that I'm going to be sent down right away. I'm going to control what I can control and play my game. If that means I'm up in Nashville, it's great. If it means that I'm playing in Milwaukee, then I've got a little more work to do."

His determination paid off, and he was able to make the Predators' NHL roster out of training camp. Smith's blazing speed was really noticeable throughout training camp, and it was evident that he could handle an NHL pace. He had the offensive skill-set to go with his speed, and it seemed that he could be an effective player at both ends of the ice for the Predators. The only question was could he be consistent throughout the grind of an 82-game NHL season after only playing 41 games a year in college hockey?

Smith found himself in the Calder Trophy conversation in the beginning of the season along with rookie phenom Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers. Through the first 15 games of the season, Smith held a one-point advantage over Nugent-Hopkins for the rookie scoring lead.

After that, Smith hit a bit of a dry spell. He was still finding his way on to the score sheet by racking up some assists, but there was a stretch from November 12 to January 5 where he only scored one goal. After scoring seven goals in his first 15 games, Smith ended the season with 14 goals in 72 games played.

Smith finished his first NHL season with a solid 36 points in 72 games played, but his production was sporadic after his explosive start. It was the first time that he had ever had to play that many games in a single season, and it's an experience that will prepare him for next season.

"It'll help him a lot. He knows what to expect now. You can tell a player all those things when he's in college, but when he has to go through it it's a different animal," said Predators Head Coach Barry Trotz.

At only 22 years of age, Smith is still a young player learning what it takes to succeed in the NHL. His impressive rookie season earned him a trip to the All-Star weekend in Ottawa, and it's something that he can build on moving into next season. It's all a part of the growth process.

"It's no different than you growing up and mom and dad telling you all of those things. When you get older you've got to do this, you've got to do that. Until you live on your own and do those things, it's a different animal," Trotz said.

Expectations will be higher for Smith next season. Now that he has gone through his first NHL season and knows what it takes to succeed, he will be expected to provide more consistent offense throughout the 2012-2013 season. He has enough talent to be a very reliable forward for the Predators. Now he just has to do it every night.

(Photo Credit: Leanne Charles)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Should Nashville re-sign Tootoo?

Since coming on board with the Nashville Predators in the 2003-2004 season, Jordin Tootoo has been one of the most recognizable athletes in Music City. His thundering hits and his fighting were a big reason for his popularity with the fans in Nashville when Tootoo started his career, and that popularity has grown ever since.

With the 2011-2012 Predators' season now in the history books, Nashville will now focus their attention on their impending free agents. Tootoo is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and many have speculated on whether or not the Predators will attempt to re-sign him.

Tootoo is coming off of the best season of his career from a statistical standpoint. He recorded a career high in points with 30, which is 12 points higher than his previous career high of 18 in a season. He also played in 77 regular season games for the Predators this past season, which is the highest amount of games that he's played in his NHL career. It wasn't all good for Tootoo, however.

Over the last 15 games that Tootoo played in the regular season, he registered just a single point and had a plus-minus rating of minus-eight during that time. His poor play over the last part of the season cost him a chance to really prove himself in the postseason. Tootoo played in just three games in Nashville's 2012 Stanley Cup Playoff run and failed to register a point.

How will Tootoo's up-and-down season affect his future status with the Predators? He has spent his entire NHL career with Nashville since being drafted by them in the fourth round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. He seems to be very comfortable in Nashville and doesn't really appear to have the desire to go anywhere else. The question is do the Predators want to bring him back?

Should the Predators re-sign Tootoo? If so, how long of a deal should he be given and how much money is he worth?

(Photo Credit: Leanne Charles)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Preds face unpredictable off-season after disappointing playoff exit

The expectations for the Nashville Predators had never been higher than they were heading into the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It seemed like the Predators finally had the necessary talent and depth that it takes to win a Stanley Cup, and Nashville was a popular pick to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals.

For the second year in a row, however, the Predators were ousted in the second round of the playoffs. The Phoenix Coyotes made short work of a shell shocked Nashville team in five games, and now another long off-season awaits a Predators team that is facing a lot of unanswered questions and potential roster turnover.

Nashville isn't happy with the way their season ended. They believe they had a team that could legitimately compete for the Stanley Cup and they simply weren't able to get the job done. However, some of the Predators' players are still able to take some positives away from the 2011-2012 season as a whole.

"Two years in a row we've made it to the second round. Obviously, we would trade it in for a Stanley Cup, but I think we battled hard. I think the amount of growth we showed from the beginning of the year to the end of the year is something that's very positive. I think at the beginning of the year there were some people who were really worried about us, and we turned into a fourth place Western Conference team so there are definitely some positives to take away," said Predators forward Colin Wilson.

The 2011-2012 season was a bit of a roller coaster ride for the Predators. Nashville began the season as the youngest team in the NHL, but were able to survive the first 20 games of the regular season with a 10-6-4 record due in large part to the stellar play of Pekka Rinne.

After that stretch, the Predators evolved into one of the most consistent teams in the league throughout the regular season. They posted an incredible 11-2-0 record in the month of January, and seemed to be in really good shape when they added Hal Gill, Andrei Kostitsyn and Paul Gaustad at the trading deadline.

Things seemed to be looking even better for the Predators when Alexander Radulov returned to Nashville after leaving nearly four years before to go play in the KHL. Radulov was supposed to be the final piece for a Predators team that suddenly had more depth than ever before.

In the first round of the playoffs, the Predators found themselves staring their longtime nemesis squarely in the face. Nashville had never beaten the Detroit Red Wings in a playoff series before, losing the series in both of the two prior postseason meetings between the two respective organizations. Nashville was finally able to beat the Red Wings in the playoffs, however, and things seemed to be looking up for them.

Before the series started, most of the hockey world was picking the Predators to get past Phoenix and advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. Somebody just forgot to tell Phoenix how the series was supposed to unfold. The Coyotes played a strong defensive series and got incredible goaltending from Mike Smith. Phoenix was able to get timely goals and that proved to be the difference in the series.

"We started building at the beginning of the season with some young guys and matched up with good veterans, too. In my book, the real season is always the playoffs. You have to prepare yourself to get in the playoffs. We did that well. We got in the playoffs and we were ready. We faced Detroit in the first round and we did a great job. Obviously, we lost in the second round, but we played hard and gave it everything we had," said Predators defenseman Francis Bouillon.

Now the attention turns to one of the most unpredictable summers in the history of the Nashville Predators franchise. Ryan Suter is an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and it's unclear whether or not he has any intention of staying in Nashville.

"Right away after (Game 5), someone asked me and it kind of made me mad and that's why I've kind of been avoiding you guys," Suter explained to reporters on Wednesday afternoon. "After the game, a guy asked it and I got kind of caught off guard. You're in playoff mode, and you lose, and you don't think about it. Now, all of a sudden, it's brought up. I haven't had time to really sit back and talk with my family and figure out what we want to do."

With the uncertain future of Suter, and how his decision may or may not impact other free agents like Shea Weber, the Predators find themselves in an uncomfortable position. The 2011-2012 season was supposed to be the season that Nashville really made a deep run in the playoffs toward the ultimate goal of the Stanley Cup. They failed to accomplish that goal. Now, they have to wait and see how that failure will impact the long-term makeup of the roster.

(Photo Credit: Leanne Charles)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Press Release: Craig Smith added to U.S. Men's National Team

Nashville Predators forward Craig Smith has been added to the U.S. Men's National Team for the remainder of the 2012 International Ice Hockey Federation Men's World Championship. Here is the official press release:

HELSINKI, Finland-Center Craig Smith(Madison, Wis/Nashville Predators/Univ. of Wisconsin) has been added to the U.S. Men's National Team for the 2012 International Ice Hockey Federation Men's World Championship it was announced today by USA Hockey. The tournament is taking place through May 20 in Helsinki, Finland, and Stockholm, Sweden.

Smith debuted for the U.S. Men's National Team last year at the IIHF Men's World Championship in Kosice and Bratislava, Slovakia. He finished second on the team in points (3-3-6) and was named one of Team USA's best three players of the tournament.

Team USA now has 14 forwards, seven defensemen and three goaltenders on its roster. The maximum roster size is 25, which includes three goaltenders and 22 forwards and defensemen.

(Photo Credit: Leanne Charles)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Nashville eliminated by Phoenix in Game 5

The Phoenix Coyotes defeated the Nashville Predators by a 2-1 score on Monday night in Game 5 of their Western Conference Semifinals series and eliminated the Predators from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This marks the second consecutive year that Nashville has been eliminated in the second round.

Nashville controlled the play for the majority of the game, out-shooting the Coyotes by a 33-17 margin. However, the Coyotes were able to capitalize on two chances while the Predators were only able to capitalize on one chance.

Mike Smith was sensational in goal for Phoenix all series long. He frustrated the Predators on Monday night, and made several sensational saves to preserve the lead for his team. Colin Wilson scored the lone goal for the Predators with 5:59 remaining in the third period, but Nashville simply wasn't able to find a way to get another puck past Smith.

For a team that had such high expectations placed upon them heading into the playoffs, being eliminated in the second round of the playoffs for the second consecutive year is certainly not what the Predators had in mind. As they had done all series long, the Coyotes were able to score timely goals and play stingy defense to get the win.

Derek Morris and Martin Hanzal scored goals for the Coyotes in the second period to give them a 2-0 lead despite Nashville out-shooting them by a 12-7 margin in the period. Those two goals would prove to be just enough.

With the series win, the Coyotes have advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. They will take on the Los Angeles Kings, who swept the Central Division champion St. Louis Blues in four games in their Western Conference Semifinals series.

Hockey Night in Nashville's 3 Stars of the game:
1. Mike Smith(PHX)
2. Martin Hanzal(PHX)
3. Colin Wilson(NSH)

Official 3 Stars:
1.Mike Smith(PHX)
2. Derek Morris(PHX)
3. Mikkel Boedker(PHX)

More later......

(Photo Credit: Leanne Charles)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Predators look to stay alive tonight in Phoenix

The Nashville Predators stare elimination straight in the face tonight as they take on the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals. Phoenix took a 3-1 series lead on Friday night when they got a 1-0 shutout victory over the Predators at Bridgestone Arena.

Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn are expected to be back in the lineup for Game 5 tonight. Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn were suspended by the team for Game 3 after violating a team rule. Barry Trotz also held them out of the lineup for Game 4 on Friday night as well.

Nashville's team defense in the first two games of the series wasn't good. However, they drastically improved in that area in Games 3 and 4 of the series. The Predators only allowed one goal in the two games in Nashville, but were only able to come away with one win.

Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith was sensational in Game 4 on Friday night and is perhaps the biggest reason that the Coyotes were able to walk away with a 3-1 series lead. He will have to be sharp again tonight for the Coyotes. Nashville will be pulling out all the stops in order to try to avoid being eliminated in the second round of the playoffs for the second consecutive year.

There is no tomorrow for the Predators if they don't win tonight. Expect them to come out with their best effort of the series. If that effort is enough to extend this series to a Game 6, then anything can happen. The puck drops in Phoenix tonight at 9 p.m. Central time.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Predators must be resilient again after losing Game 4

The Phoenix Coyotes were able to take a commanding 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference Semifinals after they defeated the Nashville Predators by a 1-0 score on Friday night at Bridgestone Arena. With the win, the Coyotes have a chance to close out the series on Monday night in Game 5 in Glendale.

Shane Doan scored the only goal of the game on an odd play in the first period. Hal Gill was knocked off of the puck along the wall by Doan, and Mikkel Boedker was able to corral it and make a quick pass to Doan. After collecting the pass, Doan carried the puck to the slot and fired a backhand shot toward Pekka Rinne. His backhand shot went off of Nashville defenseman Roman Josi and into the net.

After being totally outplayed in the first period, the Predators were able to generate several good chances in both the second and third periods. However, Mike Smith and the Coyote defense came up big on several occasions. The Predators also had a hard time hitting the net.

Nashville's most consistent line on Friday night was the line of Colin Wilson, Nick Spaling and Brandon Yip. They were able to generate several good scoring chances and play a solid defensive game as well.

"We were clicking tonight. I think we did a good job cycling down low. We had some good chemistry and we got a lot of chances. Unfortunately, we didn't capitalize on them," Yip said.

It appeared for a moment that Nashville had tied the game late in the third period on a scramble in Smith's crease. The Predators slid the puck past Smith for an apparent goal but the official immediately waved it off. That is the second consecutive game that Nashville has had an apparent goal waved off by the official.

The Predators have been a resilient team all season long. They have had several comebacks throughout the course of the season that have been improbable to say the least. Some have been flat out amazing. If they are going to come back and win this series, they are going to need a monumental effort.

"This series is far from over. We've come back in third periods before from two or three goals I can remember. We've just got to put a little run together, but it all starts with the next game in Phoenix. We've just got to focus on that and make sure we get the win," Yip said.

There is no word on whether or not Alexander Radulov or Andrei Kostitsyn will play in Game 5 on Monday night in Phoenix, but Nashville Head Coach Barry Trotz did say that there will be some lineup changes on Monday night.

If the Predators are going to stay alive and get a win in Phoenix on Monday night, they will have to make a few adjustments. Nashville's first period on Friday night was brutal. They weren't controlling the play, and they allowed several prime scoring chances for the Coyotes. If not for the stellar play of Rinne, the Predators could have been in a big hole after the first period. They will have to correct that on Monday night.

"We have to have a better start. They kind of took it to us in the first period there, and we were kind of on our heels. For the second and third, I thought we played pretty well. We can still tighten up a little bit in our own zone. The first (goal) is huge. We're a good team with the lead. They made it tough on us. They trapped it up a bit on us when we were down one there so it made it difficult," Yip said.

Hockey Night in Nashville's 3 Stars of the game:
1. Mike Smith(PHX)
2. Shane Doan(PHX)
3. Pekka Rinne(NSH)

Official 3 Stars:
1. Mike Smith(PHX)
2. Shane Doan(PHX)
3. Colin Wilson(NSH)

(Photo Credit: Leanne Charles)

Friday, May 4, 2012

Nashville will try to hold serve at home tonight

The Nashville Predators will take on the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals at 6:30 p.m. CT tonight at Bridgestone Arena. Phoenix holds a 2-1 series lead and will be looking to put a stranglehold on the Predators tonight with a win.

With Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn being held out of the lineup in Game 3, players like Matt Halischuk and Jordin Tootoo found their way back into the Nashville lineup. Whether or not the lineup will change for tonight's Game 4 is uncertain, but the players who were back in the lineup on Wednesday night after not playing for a while were excited to contribute again.

"It's exciting to get back in, and we're just trying to do whatever we can to help the team win," Halischuk said.

Nashville showed a lot of resolve on Wednesday night, and they will have to do the same thing tonight. The Predators have had to deal with the off-ice distractions that come with the situation regarding Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn, which seems to have brought them closer as a team.

"We have moved forward and we've stuck together as a team. Hopefully in the long run that will make us better and stronger. That's all behind us now, so we're just looking forward," Halischuk said.

Nashville was obviously much better defensively in Game 3 than they were in the first two games in Phoenix. Pekka Rinne recorded his first career postseason shutout on Wednesday night, and the Predators will look for the same type of result tonight. It seemed like Nashville's overall effort was a lot better in Game 3 than it had been in the first two games.

"Maybe just a little bit more detail than we had in the past two and just having more support. Five-man units working together. That's pretty much the main thing," Halischuk said.

With a win tonight, the Predators will even the series. With a loss, the Coyotes will take a commanding 3-1 series lead back to Phoenix with a chance to close it out on Monday night.

My player to watch for the Coyotes is Shane Doan. Phoenix's Captain will have to lead by example in tonight's game. The Coyotes have a big opportunity to really take control of the series with a win tonight. Doan will need to be a pivotal factor in the game if they are going to be able to do that.

For Nashville, my player to watch is Sergei Kostitsyn. On Wednesday night, Sergei Kostisyn had an effective game for the Predators. Nashville's top line of Sergei Kostisyn, Mike Fisher and Martin Erat haven't been as offensively consistent so far in the playoffs like they were in the regular season. Wednesday night's game could be the beginning of an offensive awakening by those players.

(Photo Credit: Leanne Charles)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Preds play well with lead in 2-0 win

The Nashville Predators defeated the Phoenix Coyotes by a 2-0 score in Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals on Wednesday night to cut the Coyotes' series lead in half.

In the first two games of the series, the Predators never held a lead. However, the Predators were able to get out to a fast start on Wednesday night. David Legwand gave the Predators a 1-0 lead on a bit of a weird play. Mike Smith went to play the puck and backhanded it behind his net. Gabriel Bourque was there and made a quick pass to Legwand who was able to put it in an essentially wide open net.

Mike Fisher gave the Predators a 2-0 lead just 1:06 later. Martin Erat made the original steal in the offensive zone and fired a quick pass to Sergei Kostitsyn in the slot. Kostitsyn made a pass over to Fisher who immediately attempted a pass back toward Kostisyn. However, Fisher's pass went off of Smith's stick and into the net to give the Predators a 2-0 lead.

That would be the last of the scoring throughout the game. Later on in the first period, it appeared that Legwand had given the Predators a 3-0 lead, but the goal was immediately waved off by the official. However, that didn't phase the Predators. They played a solid game with the lead, and were able to hold on for the victory.

"All season long we've played great with the lead but we are no different if we are behind. We just have to play for 60 minutes. In Phoenix, we played five minutes and then took five minutes off, and you can't play like that in the playoffs," said Predators forward Martin Erat.

Pekka Rinne stopped all 32 shots that he faced on Wednesday night to record his first shutout of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He came up big on a 5-on-3 power play by Phoenix in the third period, making a series of sensational saves on Radim Vrbata.

"He had a wide open one. I think (Rinne) throws his leg up while laying on his stomach. Vrbata got 35 (goals) this year and that's one that has gone in a lot of times. Tonight, it didn't go in," said Phoenix Head Coach Dave Tippett.

Matt Halischuk and Jordin Tootoo were reinserted into the lineup on Wednesday night following the suspension of Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn for violating team rules. Halischuk and Tootoo were strong for the Predators in Game 3, as was Colin Wilson who played in his second game of the postseason. That gives Barry Trotz options for Game 4.

"Obviously, it's just a few minutes after the game and I can't give you many answers, but it's very hard to change it if everybody is committed like they were. It was a statement. I think it's a privilege to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, to play for the Cup, and those guys took advantage of the privilege of playing. I think that's the sacred part of the playoffs. It will be very hard to change a whole lot from that group," Trotz said.

Coming into the game, the Predators wanted to focus on playing a much better defensive game. They were able to accomplish that on Wednesday night. Nashville will turn their attention to Game 4 and try to even the series at two games apiece.

Hockey Night in Nashville's 3 Stars of the game:
1. Pekka Rinne(NSH)
2. David Legwand(NSH)
3. Mike Fisher(NSH)

Official 3 Stars:
1. Pekka Rinne(NSH)
2. David Legwand(NSH)
3. Mike Fisher(NSH)

(Photo Credit: Leanne Charles)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Nashville looks to solve Phoenix tonight at home

To say that tonight's Game 3 matchup with the Phoenix Coyotes is pivotal for the Nashville Predators would be quite the understatement. The Coyotes have a 2-0 lead in the series, with a chance to take complete control tonight at Bridgestone Arena. If the Predators lose this game, there season is as good as done.

Nashville will have to try and win this game without two of their most talented offensive options. Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn will not be in the lineup tonight due to violating team rules before Game 2 on Sunday night.

The Predators will focus their attention on the defensive aspect of the game tonight, which is something that was lacking in the first two games of the series. They will have to be much better in that area of the game if they want to climb back into this series.

Coming into the series, most experts believed it would be a low-scoring, tight-checking series. That hasn't been the case so far. Phoenix has been able to score nine goals in the first two games of this series while the Predators put up six goals. If the Predators make the proper adjustments on defense, tonight's game could be a low-scoring contest that most people expected heading into the series.

It's unclear who will fill the spots of Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn. Craig Smith and Colin Wilson have both seen playing time already in this series while Jordin Tootoo and Matt Halischuk appear to be ready to play if they are needed.

My player to watch for the Coyotes is Radim Vrbata. He has three points in the first two games, including a goal in each game so far. Vrbata has been the best player on the ice for Phoenix over the first two games, and the Predators will have to find a way to slow him down tonight.

For Nashville, my player to watch is Shea Weber. With the distractions that have surrounded this team over the past few days, the Predators will look to their Captain to lead by example. That's exactly what he must do tonight. Expect him to have a big impact on both sides of the ice.

The puck drops at 8 p.m. CT tonight.

(Photo Credit: Leanne Charles)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Press Release: Radulov, A. Kostitsyn will not play in Game 3

The Nashville Predators announced today that Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn will not play in Game 3 on Wednesday night as a result of violating team rules. Here is the official press release:

Nashville, Tenn.(May 1, 2012)- Nashville Predators President of Hockey Operations/General Manager David Poile announced today that forwards Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn will not play in Game Three of the team's Western Conference Semifinals series vs. the Phoenix Coyotes as a result of violating team rules.

"The Nashville Predators have a few simple rules centered around doing the right things," Poile said. "We have always operated with a team-first mentality and philosophy. Violating team rules is not fair to our team and their teammates."

The Predators practice today at 11 a.m. CT at Centennial Sportsplex and play Game Three at Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday, May 2 at 8 p.m. CT.