NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Predators coach Barry Trotz says the Vancouver Canucks are playing games to draw penalties that just aren't fouls, so he's going on the offensive.
By defending the officials.
"That's gamesmanship, and I understand that," Trotz said Wednesday. "It's also a little bit putting the referee in a tough spot. We have the best referees. If you're going to make them look bad, I don't think that's needed in the game."
It's a show of sportsmanship by Trotz, but the Predators aren't happy with two penalties called in Tuesday night's 3-2 overtime win by the Canucks. The victory gave Vancouver a 2-1 lead in the series and home-ice advantage again in their Western Conference semifinal.
The Predators claim that Ryan Kesler bent over to hold Nashville captain Shea Weber's stick in his belly, drawing a hooking call in overtime that set up his game-winning goal. Kesler's first goal of the post-season came 60 seconds into the second period off a power play set up when Jerred Smithson moved his stick while in front of Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo, who snapped his head back.
Trotz said he watched several replays of the Weber penalty and thought Kesler embellished how much hooking actually took place. Trotz also looked at Smithson's penalty and didn't see a foul there either. The coach wasn't happy Wednesday.
"He just moved his stick over Luongo's mask. All of a sudden, after the stick goes to the other side, his head kicks back and gets a penalty," Trotz said.
The Canucks disagree and say both calls were legitimate penalties.
Luongo said the complaints are part of hockey. The goalie said there was contact with his mask, even though the stick doesn't appear to hit Luongo's mask on replays.
"I just turned my head. I mean I didn't throw myself on the floor or anything like that," Luongo said. "You can ask Smithson. He did make contact with my head."
Kesler denied any acting on his part to draw the hooking call.
"That's the rule. I mean, you get your stick parallel to the ice, and it was in my gut. Obviously, he was impeding my progress. That's the right call. I don't make the calls, so it's not my job," Kesler said.
Weber will only say it's unfortunate the game ended with a call like that, though he also said the Predators didn't deserve to win. The Predators were outshot 47-30 and went 0-for-3 on a power play that generated so few shots their own fans alternately yelled at them to shoot or booed them.
Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault is steering clear when it comes to officiating. His Canucks finally broke through with the man advantage against the Predators. The Canucks now are 2-for-10 in the series and 3-for-26 overall this season against Nashville after having the league's best power play in the regular season.
"I'm not going to comment on this one. Maybe on some other ones, but not this one," Vigneault said to laughs.
The Canucks might be working harder to draw penalties, but Vigneault said they focus on the game and on playing.
"There's comments about referees, I'll let (general manager) Mike (Gillis) handle that. He does a pretty good job," Vigneault said.
Gillis criticized uneven officiating in the Canucks' opening-series win over Chicago.
For all the talk of penalties, the NHL's best team in the regular season has the upper hand in a series where each of the first three games were decided by one goal, with the last two going to overtime. Game 4 on Thursday night is a must-win for the Predators if they hope to bring this series back to Nashville one last time.
"There's pressure on us right now for sure," Nashville forward Patric Hornqvist said. "We have to win the next game. If not, we're not in a great position. If we win the next game, we get the momentum."
The Predators will be playing without forward Steve Sullivan in Game 4. Trotz didn't have an update on Sullivan because the forward was meeting with a doctor, but the coach said Sullivan will not play. That means Trotz will either play veteran J.P. Dumont or give Colin Wilson his first minutes of the post-season.
Hornqivst and linemate Sergei Kostitsyn led Nashville in goals this season, but neither has scored a point in this series. Neither has centre Mike Fisher.
"Everybody have to take it to the net," Hornqvist said. "We're not playing very good right now. We know what we're going to do ... and hopefully we can get some chances, some goals."
The Canucks simply want to put away a game and avoid what they call the lucky bounces that have allowed Nashville to score late goals to send the past two games into overtime.
"Obviously, there's a lot of attention," Vigneault said. "There's pressure. We're all aware of it, and we expect our guys to be able to handle it, stay in the moment and make the right plays."