GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Phoenix Coyotes hope they won’t be down a player, while the Nashville Predators probably will have two returning for Game 5 of their Western Conference semifinal series.
The NHL has scheduled a hearing with Phoenix defenceman Rostislav Klesla on Sunday afternoon regarding his hit on Nashville forward Matt Halischuk in the Coyotes’ 1-0 victory on Friday night.
Replays showed that Klesla appeared to grab the back of Halischuk’s jersey before slamming him into the boards. Nashville coach Barry Trotz called it “a very dangerous hit.”
Meanwhile, Trotz said Saturday that “there’s a high probability” forwards Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn will be back in the lineup after missing the past two games.
They were suspended for Game 3 for violating team rules, then were scratched from Game 4 because Trotz didn’t want to mess with a lineup that played so well in Nashville’s 2-0 Game 3 victory.
“I talked to both of them this morning. We have communicated,” Trotz said. “They are part of our family, and they want to be in a position to get on the ice and help. They are back in the right mindset and they can make a difference here.”
Trotz left himself open to second-guessing after his offence, without possibly its two best players, fizzled in the home loss to the Coyotes on Friday night. Phoenix leads the best-of-seven series 3-1 and, with a victory on Monday, can advance to the Western Conference finals for the first time in the history of the long-downtrodden franchise.
Klesla was notified Saturday that the NHL had scheduled a hearing, to be conducted via telephone, regarding the hit.
The Coyotes took Saturday off and weren’t available to comment. Trotz said he was blocked from the play and couldn’t see it live but watched replays.
“Mind you I played defence, not well, but I have played defence before,” the Nashville coach said, “and Klesla grabs Halischuk’s shirt and pulls him back—and I know that is the whiplash effect—and then you push him right between the numbers when he is facing the boards, and it was really dangerous in my eyes. How the referees or league will view it—I cannot really speak on that—but in my eyes, drilling him the way he did, we were fortunate Halischuk spun the way he did at the last minute.”
Phoenix already is without suspended Raffi Torres, gone for 25 games after a brutal hit in the first-round series against Chicago.
Personnel issues aside, the Coyotes are in command of the series thanks to a superb defensive effort Friday, led by goalie Mike Smith, who had 25 saves in his second shutout of the playoffs.
“A one-goal game again,” Smith said. “We’ve had a lot of those this year so I think we’re comfortable doing it. But saying that, there’s still one more win to go and it’s the hardest one to get.”
Captain Shane Doan, who has been with the Coyotes since the franchise moved from Winnipeg in 1996, scored the game’s only goal in Friday night’s win.
“We were better, for the most part,” Doan said. “There were stretches where they pushed back. But we were better overall. We were OK the last game, but OK doesn’t win in the playoffs.”
Phoenix won the first two games of the series at home 4-3 in overtime and 5-3, not exactly the low-scoring affairs expected on teams with superb goaltending by Smith and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne. But with the shift to Nashville, each goalie got a shutout.
“Let’s just say what it is, our guys have to bear down on chances,” Trotz said. “Personnel-wise, the guys who had the puck on their stick for good chances are guys that are good goal scorers in this league. We just have to bury our chances.”
Nashville did get the puck into the net in the third period Friday, but the goal was waved off, after a pile of bodies landed on top of Smith and shoved him into the net. The ruling that the whistle had blown before the puck crossed the line was upheld by video review.
“It is frustrating to score a goal when you work hard in front of the net, when you push it in but it doesn’t count, it is kind of frustrating,” Nashville defenceman Roman Josi said. “You just have to stay with it and do the same things over and over again.”
With every shot on goal by Nashville, Phoenix collapsed a horde of defenders in front of Smith. That’s the way the Coyotes play, with a team that has to rely on collective effort. Budget restrictions that come with being owned by the NHL allow no room for high-paid superstars.
“The thing we always go back to is we know how we have to play if we’re going to be successful,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “The biggest thing is we know everybody has to contribute. Everybody in there does their job or is more than willing to give it everything they’ve got to get the job done. And when you do that, you can become a good team.”