Trotz wants players to earn their ice time

Nashville Predators' Alexander Radulov (L) celebrates a goal during the first round of the NHL...

Nashville Predators' Alexander Radulov (L) celebrates a goal during the first round of the NHL playoffs. (REUTERS)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 7:22 PM ET

GLENDALE, ARIZ. - Barry Trotz calls it "the law of the land."

In this case, the Nashville Predators coach -- like all the other coaches still plying their trade at this time of year -- is the judge, jury and executioner.

The law of the land in the playoffs is: If you play, you stay.

Playing time is earned, big egos are not permitted and coaches, when they are in the position Trotz found himself -- down 3-1 to the Phoenix Coyotes and facing elimination going into Game 5 of their Western Conference semifinal -- juggle their lineups and lines.

Trotz put the Nashville Night Crawlers, Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn, back in the Predators lineup for Game 5 Monday night. When a team is down, coaches have to do something to try to change the path a series is taking.

"Rad's a pretty proud guy," Trotz said of putting Radulov back in the lineup after a two-game absence. "He wants to be part of this series and he's going to be part of this series. He wants to make a difference."

Radulov, the Predators' leading playoff scorer, was suspended for Game 3, along with Kostitsyn, for missing curfew before Game 2. When the Predators won Game 3, Trotz opted to stick with the same lineup for Game 4, which the Predators lost 1-0.

Juggling the lineup, managing ice time and changing lines are about the only levers a coach has to try to get guys going or find some chemistry when things go sideways.

Radulov and Kostitsyn were to play with centre Nick Spaling in Game 5.

"I think probably the thought process is that the other lines were OK," Trotz said. "Those are the lines that will start, it doesn't mean they will be the lines that will finish. We're going to have to see who's going. It's no different than Colin Wilson, he played well the last two games so he got more and more ice time. That's part of our responsibility as a coach is to put people in situations where they're having success and play the players that are going well.

"Colin Wilson will have to be good or he'll move down the lineup. That's the law of the land in the playoffs."

Trotz demoted winger Sergei Kostitsyn from the top line and replaced him with Wilson, who started this series as a healthy scratch and was to play on the first unit Monday night with Mike Fisher and Martin Erat.

"I kind of went from the doghouse to the penthouse pretty quick," said the 22-year-old Wilson, who was the Predators top pick (seventh overall) in 2008. "I'm using that to kind of motivate me to play. I realize I was in a bad situation and I don't ever want to go back to that. I want the team to win and I want to help the team to win."

That's what coaches like Trotz hope, that by taking ice time away or rewarding good play with more ice time, players will feel like Wilson does.

Trotz is hoping Sergei Kostitsyn gets the message now.

"We talked about egos." Trotz said. "All the decisions are based on winning the hockey game. So you've got to check your ego. If it's not sitting well with him, I'd be disappointed. In terms of not responding, I expect him to respond and if anybody is not going, he'd be a guy to move up. He's very capable, he's a good offensive player and he's a good defensive player. He can play both sides of the puck pretty well.

"One thing that's underrated about Sergei is his intelligence as a player. He's a very smart player. He's a very useful player. Where he is right now, it doesn't necessarily mean that's where he's going to end up, that's for sure."

Coaches hope at this time of year they can push the right buttons.

As far as Radulov being motivated, he was saying the right things, anyway.

"I got something to prove," Radulov said,. "Not to you guys ... but first to myself."

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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