Trotz has difficult lineup decisions to make heading into Game 4 of Semifinals
Going into Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals, the coaching staff of the Nashville Predators will have some difficult decisions to make.
After losing the first two contests of the series to Phoenix, the Predators shut out the Coyotes by a 2-0 score, without Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn in the lineup. The two scoring threats were suspended by the team for one game as a result of breaking a team rule.
Matt Halischuk and Jordin Tootoo took their spots in the lineup.
“They played great. They’ve been great for us all year,” Predators Captain Shea Weber said. “They’ve been practicing hard. They have been staying in shape, just waiting for their chance. They got their chance last night, and they were great.”
Weber said the coaching decisions regarding any possible lineup changes for Game 4 would be tough.
“When things are going well, you don’t like to tweak too much, but that’s not for [the players] to decide. Whoever is in the lineup, we [will be] ready to go,” he said.
Halischuk played his first game since Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Detroit Red Wings.
“It is definitely exciting to get back in [the lineup],” Halischuk said after practice on Thursday. “The crowd was great, and it is an exciting time of year to play. We try to do whatever we can to help the team win. Those kinds of decisions are out of our hands. We just want to go out there and play hard and contribute.”
Halischuk left the game for several minutes during the second period after being hit hard into the boards by Adrian Aucoin. Halischuk said he felt good Thursday morning and had just been winded by Aucoin.
Wednesday night’s game was Tootoo’s first contest since Game 3 of the series against Detroit, the only game that Tootoo played during the quarterfinals.
“I think he was itching. He’s been out for a while. He had a great first half of the year. He knew when he got his chance he had to make a difference. I think last night he was great,” Weber said.
Now that he got back into the lineup, Tootoo doesn’t want to give the spot to anyone else.
“I think any guy that sits out is always itching to get back in the lineup. We’ve got a great group of guys in here. We have a lot of depth. I just want to make sure I seize my opportunity and then just take it one game at a time,” he said, adding, “When you’re told you’re not able to do what you loved to do growing up, it’s always a tough feeling. But as a pro, you have to make sure you’re mentally on the right track and just stay positive.”
With a physical team like Phoenix, a couple of hard-working grinders may actually suit the lineup better than the skilled offensive talent that Radulov and Kostitsyn bring to the table. It is something Trotz acknowledged when he spoke to the media Thursday morning.
“One of the things that you have to realize [is that] the game is going to dictate how you play. If there is no time and space, you can’t dangle. You have to play a chip-and-chase or chip-and-support type of game. I love the fact that guys can dangle and stick handle, but when you’re stick handling and turning the puck over, that’s just not effective. Sometimes you have to play the way the game demands you to play. When you refuse to do that, you will just be a turnover machine like we were in Phoenix,” Trotz explained.
Trotz has yet to confirm who will play in Friday night’s pivotal Game 4.
“I know it is going to be very tough, if I do anything,” Trotz said. “I thought everyone was pretty committed. I can’t give a definite decision right now, because I don’t have that. The guys that were in got the job done, and they played very hard. It would be very difficult for me to give you an exact lineup for tomorrow.
“[Radulov and Kostitsyn] were cheering like crazy yesterday, and they know that it might prevent them from being in the lineup tomorrow. They know it’s about trying to win this series, so whatever decision I make, they might not like it, but they will support it.”
While Radulov would certainly welcome a return to the lineup, he also understands the position the coaching staff is in, and will wait until after Friday’s morning skate before finding out whether he is in the lineup or not.
“Usually they say after the morning skate tomorrow. I don’t think it’s right to go and ask. Guys played well yesterday. I want to play, but it’s not like I [will] go and ask for it. Whatever happens tomorrow happens. We just have to make sure we’re ready for the game,” Radulov said. “It’s up to the coaches. I can’t control that. I can only control myself. Just work hard out there, come to practice. It will be just to make sure everything is good for the team.”
Friday night’s Game 4 has a special 6:30 pm CDT start time at Bridgestone Arena.