For the majority of the game, it really felt like the Predators were going to come out on top.
Everything was tilted in their favor.
Even though they allowed the first goal of the game off the first shot of the game for Arizona, Nashville continued to ramp up the pressure on the Coyotes and eventually tied things up.
Then they took the lead…or so we initially thought.
Just like Game 1, however, a moment of adversity changed the game for the Predators. This time it leaves Nashville 60 minutes away from either heading back home or forcing a winner-takes-all Game 5.
It’s unfortunate, too, because they played a really well-executed Game 3, it was just two or three plays that ultimately doomed them. Which leads us to wonder what head coach John Hynes will do before Game 4, or if he’ll do anything at all.
1) Make it count
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve watched the Predators play a game and be all over the competition during the first half of the opening period just to allow some ridiculous goal off of the other team’s first or second shot.
It’s like clockwork, truly, and everytime it happens I point it out on Twitter.
The same happened in Game 1 as well. Nashville played great for the first five minutes and let in one of the stupidest, unstoppable goals I’ve ever seen covering this sport.
While the goal allowed today wasn’t something straight out of Looney Tunes, the Predators amplified that pressure and peppered the Coyotes from every angle and every area of the offensive zone during the first handful of minutes to open Game 3 — they ended the first period outshooting Arizona 19-9.
There’s no logical reason for it either, it’s just the strangest, but most predictable, thing that happens to hockey teams, because it’s not just the Preds this happens to either.
My advice to Nashville on Friday would be to make it count. Keep doing what you did well on Wednesday, but make your chances count. Because if you don’t, you’ll be cleaning out your lockers on Saturday and departing the bubble to head back to Nashville.
2) Undisciplined play in a largely disciplined game
Penalties had been a huge part of this series so it was interesting to see the refs pack both teams into a time machine and warp them back to the mid-90’s for some true playoff hockey.
Based on how rules changed after the first lockout in the early 2000’s, there were plenty of plays that could have — or even should have — been called as a penalty in Game 3, they were just letting both teams play.
Only six penalties were called on Wednesday, and three of them came from a brouhaha in the final 90 seconds after Predators captain Roman Josi ate a bit of a cross-check while he was down on the ice.
Of the other three calls, one of them directly led to Arizona taking a 3-1 lead in the final five minutes of regulation. And it was an ugly penalty at that.
As Coyotes forward Conor Garland was making a play in the neutral zone and had fallen to one knee, Craig Smith swooped in for a check. The check was high and directly into Garland’s head.
On the ensuing power play, Taylor Hall made them pay and then the game was effectively out of reach.
There’s no telling what will come of that illegal check to the head, but the reality of the situation is that it was an awful play by Smith at an extremely critical time for Nashville late in a swing game.
Before that penalty, the Predators had played one of their more disciplined games in some time.
You just can’t make a hit like that in the final five minutes when your team is trying to even things up. You can’t.
3) Time to make some changes
Hynes has to do something and there’s no way to sugarcoat this any longer.
The second line has to be adjusted and it has to be done for Game 4, because currently they are a massive liability.
Being more precise, I feel this all starts and ends with Matt Duchene.
I’m never a fan of pushing blame on one player, nor of calling that player out, but through three games, Nashville’s highest-paid forward (albeit tied with Ryan Johansen on that front) has been absent when his team needs his contributions the most.
To make things worse, his play during Game 3 directly changed the course of the hockey game — DIRECTLY changed its course. Not making the overused “Duchene was offside” joke that plenty of people are going with, referencing the time where Duchene was playing for Colorado and scored a goal while being six miles offside, this time it could cost them a playoff series.
Many of you will shake your head at that notion and consider that an overreaction, but let’s think about it for just a moment.
If Duchene waits for just a quarter of a second longer, long enough for Roman Josi to get the puck into the zone, Nashville takes a 2-1 lead early in the third and has a chance to lock the Coyotes down from there.
You likely don’t see Craig Smith make a boneheaded illegal check to the head. You don’t see Mattias Ekholm get toe-dragged to oblivion. You don’t see the Predators fall 4-1. The entire course of the game is changed in that one play.
If Nashville goes on to lose Game 4, you can change that to “the entire course of the series”.
It’s a legitimate argument to make and no one — no one — feels worse about that play in the locker room than Duchene, I can guarantee you that.
Here’s the dilemma though: why hasn’t he shown up beyond that?
He’s been a middling player, at best, for the Predators this entire series. For a player that can be a game-changer offensively for the team, hence why he makes the money he does, his disappearing act leaves a glaring hole on the second line.
So far, there’s been no proof that Duchene has or will make any kind of impact for the Predators this series. He’s been on the ice for 33 shot attempts for Nashville, 30 shot attempts against, and not a single point. This team isn’t paying him to be a middle-of-the-road player, they’re paying him to be a game-changer — which he’s not doing right now.
That being said, I think you make him take a seat for Game 4.
Many of you will hit back with the argument of just moving him to a different line and rotating things that way to generate more offense, but let me pose you this question: has the first, third, or fourth line done something to warrant one of their players being unexpectedly moved to a non-performing line and be replaced by a player who hasn’t shown up through three games?
All three of the other lines are clicking. All have a level of chemistry that you’d hope would have found its way to Duchene, Turris, and Granlund by now. But it hasn’t. Turris and Granlund have both had good moments and bad so far this series, but nothing that shows me that they’re not being an effective member of the Predators lineup.
Duchene isn’t right now. Nashville can’t afford that, either.
You have to give that spot to someone who is hungry enough to make a difference, regardless of what they’re being paid.
It’s time to make a change. Hynes doesn’t want to be the guy who keeps things status quo going into Game 4 and then they lose, because that’s an even worse look than Duchene’s ineffectiveness.