By Josh Cooper in Nashville, Tenn.
For the last 24 hours, the Nashville Predators vowed they would be better in Game 3.
Faced with the distraction of team-ordered suspensions to Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn and the adversity of being down 0-2 to the Phoenix Coyotes, Nashville delivered with an airtight defensive performance that was true to its team nature for its first playoff shutout of this season.
"I think it was a wakeup for us," Predators defenceman Shea Weber said of the suspensions.
"We realized we weren't playing our game and we got back to that and were a lot better tonight. I think it's only as big a distraction as you make it -- everyone in here is focused."
The performance was Nashville's best of this series.
The Predators had allowed nine goals in the first two game at Glendale, Ariz, and though the Coyotes had 32 shots on goaltender Pekka Rinne in Game 3, few of the chances were solid. Rostislav Klesla hit the post in the first period and Rinne made three big saves on Radim Vrbata -- a diving glove save in the second and two on a crucial 5-on-3 in the waning minutes of the third.
"It feels good, obviously," Rinne said. "It's always tough after the first few games and you give up a lot of goals and lose two games in a row.
"You put a lot of pressure on yourself and it feels good to win this one and play a solid game. It makes the series totally different now."
In order to make up for the absences of Radulov and Kostitsyn, Trotz inserted Jordin Tootoo and Matt Halischuk into the lineup.
Tootoo was at his agitating best, drawing a penalty and leading the Predators with five registered hits in the game. When asked after the game if Radulov and Kostitsyn would return to the lineup, Trotz was adamant that the two would likely stay out for Game 4 on Friday.
"I can't give you any answers," Trotz said. "But it's very hard to change it if everybody is committed like they were."
On top of the Predators' defensive presence, they also re-established their forecheck -- something they had yet to do this series.
Both of Nashville's goals were created by players pursuing the puck. On the first score, Patric Hornqvist forced Mike Smith into a puck-playing gaffe. This enabled Gabriel Bourque to find David Legwand in front of the net. On the second, Martin Erat created a turnover deep in the Phoenix zone, separated Oliver Ekman-Larsson from the puck and found Sergei Kostitsyn, who passed the puck to Mike Fisher for the goal.
"Sometimes these things happen and we have to rally around each other as a group," Fisher said. "I think we all had the feeling we would.
"There was no doubt about it in our minds and we went out and proved it and, hopefully, we're going to keep going and it's going to be a turning point for us."
Josh Cooper reports for The Tennessean. Follow him @joshuacooper
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