Nashville Predators vs. Arizona Coyotes Game 4 Preview: Last Dance, Last Chance, For Cup

No more excuses. It’s time to see how good this Preds team is.

We heard from the Nashville Predators a day after their Game 3 loss, and they told us the team really wants to win this one.

The Preds are 60 minutes away from either forcing a winner-take-all Game 5 against the Arizona Coyotes, or being unceremoniously bounced from the postseason for the second year in a row.  Given the amount of money invested in this Nashville roster, the latter option would be an unmitigated disaster.

Yesterday in Review: New Game, Same Troubles

The Nashville Predators

Say what you want about the Preds’ start to this series, but it’s not like John Hynes needs to overhaul the entire game plan.  The Predators, overall, played really well Wednesday.  They outshot the Coyotes 40 to 28, and limited Arizona to just 8 high-danger chances the entire game.  But to channel my inner Ted Orion from D3: The Mighty Ducks, it takes less than a second to score a goal.  And for the Predators, it’s the split-second lapses in focus — falling out of position, turning the puck over, or taking a bad penalty — that have plagued them this series.

One of the biggest highs has been the JoFA line; Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and Viktor Arvidsson have by far been Nashville’s three best players this postseason, and whenever they’re on the ice, it seems as if the Preds are buzzing around the net.  That trio has factored into six of the Predators’ eight goals this season.

But if Nashville wants any chance of moving on, their OTHER big line is going to have to do... well... something.  Matt Duchene, Mikael Granlund, and Kyle Turris have combined for just one point (an assist from Duchene) in this series.  Sure, they had one goal Wednesday wiped out by an offsides.  But even despite that... for a trio making $19.7 million between them this season, the level of play this series just hasn’t been good enough.

Should the Nashville Predators Bench Matt Duchene?

Hynes rolled out the same lineup for all three games so far.  One would expect that to change today, but the question is: “where?”  Does he trust a veteran Dan Hamhuis or Korbinian Holzer to stabilize the Preds’ bottom defensive pair?  Does he insert Colin Blackwell into the forward corps, or does he simply hope a shuffle of lines will help some of these high-powered stars find their games?

The answer to these questions has to be definitive, because the Predators don’t have any more room for error.

The Arizona Coyotes

The Coyotes have been outplayed for 80% of this series, and yet they’re one win away from moving on to the next round.  Considering they still have plenty of room to improve (and the fact that they’ve taken a 2-1 series lead with their leading scorer, Nick Schmaltz, still out with an injury), Arizona’s in an enviable spot.

The story of Game 3 was Darcy Kuemper.  The veteran goaltender finally looked like the game-changing backstop that generated some Vezina chatter earlier in the season — making 39 saves while surviving several high-danger sequences early in the game.  We had labeled Kuemper as the type of goalie who could steal a series with a couple of highlight-reel games, and so far, it’s looking like that may be the case.

It also doesn’t hurt when the stars playing in front of your goaltender are firing on all cylinders.  Taylor Hall, who had a goal and assist Wednesday, has looked every bit the MVP-caliber player Arizona hoped he’d be when they brought him over midseason.  Apart from his scoring prowess (he leads the Coyotes with 4 points this postseason), we saw flashes of his underrated two-way game Wednesday, courtesy of two quality defensive plays on the backcheck that robbed the Predators of dangerous scoring chances.  Young stars Christian Dvorak and Clayton Keller have stepped up as well, with two goals and an assist each.

But as we mentioned earlier, and what may be concerning for Preds fans, the Coyotes are getting this production despite not playing overall sharp hockey.  Most of their damage has been done off of odd-man rushes, turnovers, or special teams.  There’s certainly room for improvement, and if they can possess the puck long enough to get their big guns set up, Nashville’s going to have their hands full.

Potential X-Factor

Games like today are tailor-made for “unsung heroes,” and Nick Bonino is a good candidate to be exactly that.  Bones already has one goal in this series and could have easily had another one in Game 3, foiled only by a sharp sequence by Kuemper.  He just seems due for a spotlight moment... either a key goal or an assist late, or a blue-ribbon defensive effort on the penalty kill.

Soundtrack Of The Day

Instead of a song, I’ll leave you with a pep talk from Randy Marsh that perfectly sums up the Predators’ situation.

How To Watch

Puck drop: 1:30 p.m. (CST)

TV: NBCSN. Fox Sports Tennessee

Radio: 102.5 The Game