Backs against the wall.
Pick whatever cliche that you want, this is where the Predators find themselves against the Phoenix Coyotes. The task before them is monumental as they had to win a game at Jobing.com Arena in front of an amped up crowd of Coyote faithful.
The Predators task was simple. Play every shift all out. Play each period for a full 20 minutes. Play Predator hockey.
Once again, Pekka Rinne would duel with Mike Smith, but more importantly for the Predators, the team in front of Rinne had to outplay their Coyote counterparts.
The first period saw both teams play with good jump and both goalies made some good saves. The Predators got the only power play of the period, but could not convert. Both teams were excellent on the forecheck, disrupting the offensive flow. The Predators did a good job of fighting through the forecheck and creating chances, but could not solve Smith. For the period, the Predators out shot the Coyotes 10-5.
This was the kind of period that the Predators had to play in this contest, but for them to be successful, they were going to have to finish some of their chances.
Phoenix nearly scored early in the second off a Shane Doan breakaway that Rinne turned aside with his pads. The Coyotes were pressing the Predators and they capitalized off a shot from the blue line by Derek Morris at 3:54. Rinne was screened in front and the shot appeared to re-directed by Rinne.
Roman Josi was called for interference 4:19 of the second, and the Predators PK was going to have to come up big to keep the game in hand. The Coyotes power play was short circuited by Martin Hanzal as he was called for hooking and the teams skated 4 on 4 for the next 1:27.
In the abbreviated power play, the Predators had some great chances around the Coyotes net, but could not cash in as the puck bounced over the stick of an open Alexander Radulov at the side of the net.
The Predators kept the pressure on the Coyotes , and on the power play, a Shea Weber bomb beat Smith but clanged off the post. The Predators had done everything but score so far in this game.
The Coyotes extended the lead to 2-0 as Martin Hanzal scored on a shot through traffic that Rinne never saw. The score came at 15:09 of the second period, and now the hill was getting incredibly steep for the Predators.
Although the offensive push by the Predators was good, they could not get a puck past Smith. The scoring chances for the Predators saw them unable to finish. Part was just bad puck luck, but much credit had to go to the Coyotes, who were clogging up the prime scoring areas in front of Smith and preventing the Predators from getting to loose pucks.
The Predators out shot the Coyotes 12-7 in the second, but staring at a 2-0 deficit, the season was coming down to to the final 20 minutes. The Predators had to figure out a way to get a puck past Smith or the season was going to come to a quick end.
You could not fault the effort by the Predators in the third period. They were throwing everything they could at Smith and the Coyotes, but just could not get a puck in the net. They were controlling play in the offensive zone, but the old bugaboo of not being able to finish scoring chances was once again biting this team in the ass.
The Predators finally solved Smith at 14:01 of the third as David Legwand sent a perfect pass from the half boards to Colin Wilson as he was driving the net. Wilson got his stick on the puck and tipped it over the shoulder of Smith to cut the deficit to 2-1. The Predators had life, but the clock was quickly becoming the enemy of the Predators.
Despite a final furious flurry by the Predators, they could not score the game tying goal and fell to the Coyotes 2-1 to end their season.
The Predators effort was solid, but the lack of a scorer that could finish their chances doomed them in this contest and in this series. Credit has to go to the Coyotes for the solid team game they played in this game and in this series. In a contest between two teams that were fairly evenly matched, they took advantage of the mistakes the Predators made and punished us for them. From start to finish, the Coyotes were the more solid team, and deserved the series.
For the Predators, this is a disappointment. To win this series and compete for the Cup, they had to have their best players be the best. Unfortunately, they were not.
This leaves an off season of questions about the roster and how to get this team over the hump so they can win a tough series.
There will be plenty of time now to ponder those questions.