Nashville Predators head coach Barry Trotz said that his decision to keep the team’s top playoff point-getter, Alexander Radulov, and the player tied for the team lead in goals, Andrei Kostitsyn, out of Friday’s Game 4 versus the Phoenix Coyotes was “pretty simple.”
The team won Game 3, the game for which the two offensive weapons were suspended, 2-0 in Nashville, bringing the Predators back in the conference semifinal and giving Nashville a chance to knot the series at two games apiece Friday.
As straightforward as Trotz says the call was, many fans and analysts question if keeping two of your greatest talents — one-game suspension served and healthy, no less — is the wisest course of action. But momentum is a funny beast, and one that must be harnessed in the NHL’s second season.
“Usually when you win, you don’t change your lineup, so it’s up to them,” says 2011 Hall of Fame inductee Doug Gilmour, who “never, ever, ever” missed curfew come playoff time. “I think everybody’s gone through different times (of being late). The old saying is, it doesn’t matter if you’re two seconds or one minute late, you might as well be three hours late. Curfews are there for a reason, and you gotta follow them.”
Mike Krushelnyski, who won three Stanley Cups with Edmonton in the ’80s and a fourth in 1998 as an assistant coach on the Detroit Red Wings, agrees with Trotz’s if-it-ain’t-broke approach.
“As a coach, I would leave my lineup. I wouldn’t insert them back in. One, you’ve won the [previous] game. Two, you’ve gained momentum, and hopefully they can continue. If [Trotz] loses the next game, then he’s going to bring them in, and he can use it as a tool: We can strengthen our team with these two guys. We’re changing things,” Krushelnyski, 52, explains.
Wayne Gretzky’s frequent linemate points to the recent case of the New York Rangers. Centre Brian Boyle was playing brilliantly in the opening round, and then he suffered a concussion in Game 5 against the Ottawa Senators. Despite his absence, the Rangers won three straight games, closing out the Sens and getting the jump on Round 2’s Washington Capitals. A recovered Boyle was inserted back in Game 2 against Washington, which New York lost.
“So I guessed they learned something,” Krushelnyski says. “I’m a firm believer that if you win, you stick with the same lineup, because the guys have continuity, they know exactly what’s going on. You keep the momentum going.”
Krushelnyski vehemently denies that any of his teammates broke curfew in his 15-year NHL career. After pausing for effect, he breaks into laughter: “Of course, we did!
“Throughout the season guys would break curfew by half an hour, and it was nothing malicious or intended. It was just having a few sociables and talking. Most of the time you get into discussions about the game with your teammates. No, no, no. If we do this, this is how we can score or create a chance. We were usually talking about how to become more successful,” he says.
But once the clock struck playoffs, those 30-minute rule bends tightened.
“We had one incident in one playoff where the player had missed the plane. He had inadvertently slept in, but fortunately he was waiting for us in Philadelphia — dressed, in the locker room, before we even got there. So that situation was nullified right there,” Krushelnyski says.
“You don’t come in at 4 a.m.,” quipped a smiling Curtis Joseph, who tended goal for 14 playoff squads. “You come in at 7 with a paper.”
Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier, 55, has seven Stanley Cup rings to his name. When he says he can’t recall anyone on his ’80s dynasty New York Islanders or his early-’90s Pittsburgh Penguins blowing curfew, it isn’t a setup to a punch line. The Isles’ were as serious about abiding rules as they were winning.
“Not on our team. Curfew was a high priority, something every player respected. Accountability in the locker room was a high priority. From the time I walked into the Islanders to the time I left the Penguins, it was always, ‘Hey, guys, let’s make sure we’re focused on all the things that are necessary,’ and that was one of them,” Trottier says.
For coach Al Arbour’s Islanders, a team that reeled off a Stanley Cup four-peat from 1980 through 1983, curfew was 11 p.m. the night before a game and midnight on off nights.
“If you’re out with your family and you run into traffic, big deal, that’s one of those things. It’s common sense. Curfew was never an issue; it was never even brought up,” Trottier says. Occasionally on road trips, he adds, Arbour would mandate an early curfew when he was mad with the team’s performance. “After a game, there’s generally no curfew unless we had another game the next day. So he’d throw and early curfew and do a room-check. I loved that — that was comical. He’d call the room: [mimics Arbour’s stern voice] Are you guys in? ‘I think so. You called and I’m talking on the phone.’ ”
If you were Nashville coach Barry Trotz, would you dress Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn for Game 4 on Friday?