It was a game that changed two penalties at a time.
The Nashville Predators took advantage of an extended five-on-three situation and tied the score shortly past the midpoint of the third period. They surrendered the game-winner, though, during a four-on-four segment in the closing minutes.
Phoenix defenseman Keith Yandle scored with 1:45 to play — and with 26 seconds to go on coincidental minors to Sergei Kostitsyn and Adrian Aucoin — as the Predators dropped their fourth straight home game 3-2 to the Coyotes before an announced 15,638 at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday.
“They have some skill, and you have to hit and contain,” captain Shea Weber said. “We didn’t do a very good job of that. We were kind of circling and gave them time to make that backdoor pass to [Yandle].”
In a contest that featured some highlight reel saves by goalies Pekka Rinne of Nashville and Jason LaBarbera of Phoenix and goals remarkably close to the start and finish of the first period, penalties barely were a factor. Only two — one per team — were called through the first two periods and neither side capitalized on its advantage.
Then the Coyotes, ahead 2-1 at the time, committed a pair of violations six seconds apart. The Predators did what was expected tied it 1:31 later on Weber’s slap shot.
It was still even when Kostitsyn (slashing) and Aucoin (roughing) were sent off together with 3:19 remaining. From that point until Yandle scored it only seemed as if the Coyotes had a two-man advantage.
Phoenix won three straight faceoffs and outshot Nashville 4-1 over the 1:34 it took before Yandle was left alone in the slot and rang a shot off the left post and in.
“A four-on-four you want to start with the puck and we weren’t getting it,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “… Everything starts with the draw. If you have the puck, then you can do something offensively.
“They started with the puck every time. That’s not good enough.”
Chris Mueller, recalled late last week, lost the last of those facoffs, which took place in the Nashville end. The Coyotes maintained possession in the offensive end from there and got two shots — both from Yandle.
Prior to that one, Mueller had won seven of nine for the contest.
“We just have to have that draw,” Trotz said. “… [Mueller] has played a lot of four-on-four in Milwaukee, so I was pretty comfortable putting him out there.”
The fact is that the Predators never really got comfortable.
Playing against the team that is fifth in the Western Conference in goals allowed per game they fell behind nine seconds after the opening faceoff. That matched the earliest goal ever allowed by Nashville, originally set last season by St. Louis’ Andy McDonald.
They got even on a goal by Jack Hillen with 12 seconds to play in the period.
“All of a sudden you’re down 1-0 against a team that’s strong defensively — that’s their calling card,” Trotz said. “We battled back and got a real timely goal at the end of the period.”
The score remained tied until 1:40 into the third period. Phoenix made in 2-1 on a counter-attack after LaBarbera stoned David Legwand on a point-blank chance.
“We almost had the empty-netter right before and then they come back and score,” Nashville forward Patric Hornqvist said. “They scored those big momentum goals and changed the game.
“That’s why they won.”