T he Phoenix Coyotes have pushed the Nashville Predators to the brink of elimination in the Western Conference Semifinals.
In Game 4 at Bridgestone Arena, Phoenix netminder Mike Smith kept the Predators off the scoreboard as the Coyotes clung to a 1-goal lead and took a 3-1 series advantage.
Nashville had their chances to tie the game – and potentially the series – but the bounces never came their way.
“There were a ton of great opportunities,” Nashville forward Paul Gaustad said. “I thought Pekka played well for us and gave us a chance to win. We didn’t capitalize on some of our chances.”
Gaustad’s main contribution to the game was a fight with Kyle Chipchura at the 10-minute mark of the first period. The game was tied and had the feel of a 1-0 type-of-game. Nashville’s Matt Halischuk had been boarded a few minutes before by Phoenix’s Rostislav Klesla and Gaustad wanted to respond while also giving his teammates a jump.
“I thought everybody went back to work to grind it out,” Gaustad said. “Even though (Phoenix) scored like 5 minutes later, I thought our team responded well.”
Phoenix’s lone goal – the only of the game for either team – came on a backhander from Shane Doan at 14:25 of the first period, while Gaustad was still in the box serving his fighting major.
Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter defended Gaustad’s decision to fight Chipchura at that moment.
“Whenever someone goes out and does something like that, you have to build off of his energy,” Suter said. “I thought we did that, but then it was kind of a lucky goal. But it doesn’t matter – it was a goal.”
Nashville was unable to register a goal in the remaining 2 periods despite a plethora of offensive chances. While the Predators put up 25 shots on goal, they had an additional 16 shots blocked and another 14 miss the net completely.
“I thought we had good looks,” Gaustad said. “We have to get them up and on net. We missed a lot today.”
“I thought we did a great job,” Gaustad reiterated. “Pekka gave us a chance to win. We just have to bury our chances”
The Predators now face an elimination game for the 9th time in franchise history. Only once – last season against Vancouver – have they been able to win while up against the elimination wall.
“I think we have the character in here to win a game and then move forward,” Gaustad said.
Gaustad, acquired from the Buffalo Sabres at the trade deadline in exchange for Nashville’s first round pick in the upcoming draft, did not play for the last 12:44 of the game, despite drawing 7-of-11 faceoffs to that point. In fact, Gaustad and Nick Spaling were the only two Predators to draw above 50 percent.
Gaustad has 2 points – 1 goal and 1 assist – in the playoffs, tied with Brandon Yip and Sergei Kostitsyn in points, with one more goal than Nick Spaling. All three of the other players saw ice time in the final minutes.
However, Nashville head coach Barry Trotz felt that despite Nashville’s 44.23% faceoff percentage without Gaustad, they were better off down the stretch with the other players.
“If you look at the sheet tonight we were pretty decent on the faceoffs,” Trotz said. “In certain areas of the game, especially late in the game, for him to win the faceoff – we were looking more at offensive players [like] Legwand and Spaling…Sometimes that’s what you have to weigh: defensive posture versus offensive posture.”
As the series heads to Glendale for Game 5, Gaustad points out that only one thing can bring them back to Nashville for a sixth game.
“We just have to win a game,” Gaustad said. “We just have to focus on winning a hockey game.”