The Nashville Predators looked to take a 3-1 series lead against a desperate Detroit Red Wings team at the Joe Louis Arena in the fourth game of their first round series.
The Predators were once again going to rely on Pekka Rinne in net to hold the dangerous Wings offense in check. The Red Wings Jimmy Howard looked to return to his stellar regular season form.
Little did the Predators know how much they would rely on Rinne in this contest.
The Predators won the game 3-1, but the score was not indicative of the the tenor of this contest.
The first period was a choppy period that saw both teams take several trips to the penalty box. The Predators were tagged for three penalties, while the Wings were called for two. Each team managed to short circuit a power play by taking penalties, and for the Predators, it was fortuitous as they had taken two consecutive penalties and the Wings only had 21 seconds on that second power play.
Neither team established much flow offensively, but the advantage was slightly in the Wings favor. The Predators rarely got into an offensive rhythm, and were out shot by the Wings 11-7.
The choppiness of the game continued in the second period, and this worked in favor of the Wings as the Predators offense was non-existent in the opening minutes. In fact, it took the Predators 8:50 seconds to record their first shot on goal. In fact, the Wings had out shot the Predators 9-1 to open the period.
For whatever reason, the Predators offense was lethargic and without energy. If the Predators were going to win this game, the jump in their offense was going to have to get going.
The Predators offense never did get going in the second period. In fact, the offensive effort by the Preds was miserable. The Predators were out shot 17-3 and frankly were lucky to get out of the first 40 minutes scoreless.
The lack of offense by the Predators was inexplicable. Yes, the Wings are a good defensive team. The Predators made them look great. Shots did not get through, players were not going to the net, and the offense floated.
Inexplicable and inexcusable.
If the Predators wanted to win this game, they were not showing it.
Fortunately, it was scoreless, and going into the third period, it would be decided by which team wanted it more.
Predator fans could only hope their offense would show up in the final 20 minutes.
Both teams got their offense going in the third period, finding the back of the net.
David Legwand scored at 1:28 of the third period, but the refs had lost sight of the puck and had blown the whistle and the goal did not count.
Unbelievable, as the officials had asserted themselves and took away a goal by the Predators.
The Predators did get their goal at 1:55 of the period as Alexander Radulov flipped the puck toward the front of the net from the goal line. The puck went off Justin Abdelkader’s stick right onto the stick of Gabriel Bourque and he buried the puck to give the Predators a 1-0 lead.
Bourque continues his strong play with his third goal of the series and it was huge for the Predators.
The Predators were called for too many men on the ice, and this time, the Predators were burnt as Niklas Kronwall blasted a shot from the blue line that was tipped by Jiri Hudler and beat Rinne to tie the game at 1 at 2:14.
The Predators regained the lead as Marty Erat fought for the puck and drove into the Wings zone. He drew 3 Wings defenders to him and found Kevin Klein cruising down the slot all alone and Klein buried the shot into the open net to make it 2-1 at 6:25.
Once again, the Predators were called for a penalty as Andrei Kostitsyn was given a weak interference call. Nevertheless, the Wings were going on the power play, and the Predators needed to come up with a big kill.
The kill was successful and now the Predators needed to settle down and play solid hockey. This game was theirs for the taking.
Yet again, the Predators were called for another penalty as Matt Halischuk was called for interference and the Predators needed another big penalty kill at 14:43.
Once again, the PK unit stopped the Wings, and Rinne made some big stops to keep the Wings off the board. The Predators still held the lead, but repeated trips to the penalty box were dangerous.
A penalty was finally called on the Wings as Henrik Zetterberg took a two handed chop on Shea Weber at 19:04. Off the ensuing face off, the Predators battled for the puck and David Legwand came out of the corner with the puck and went to the front of the net and slipped the puck through the pads of Howard to give the Predators a 3-1 lead.
Legwand got the goal that he should have been awarded early in the third.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, the Predators had sealed a 3-1 victory and secured a 3-1 series lead. They have an opportunity to close out the series Friday in Nashville.
Once again, the Predators survived the onslaught of the Wings offense and were able to escape with the win. Everyone in the locker room should give Pekka Rinne a big round of applause, as he turned aside shot after shot from the Wings. What has emerged from these games so far is that the Wings can only rarely get the puck past Rinne at even strength. Their scoring has predominantly come off the power play.
Which means the Predators have to stay out of the box. They made this win much more difficult by taking numerous penalties- 7 to be specific. The Wings are too good and too dangerous to keep taking these kind of chances with the dangerous offense they possess.
Oh yeah- play offense for 60 minutes. Being out shot 41-17 is not usually a winning formula.
Now it is time for the Predators to re-group and focus on the task at hand. They have an opportunity to end the series and rest up before the start of the second round. Be assured that the Wings will come out with even more desperation in game five, and it will be important for the Predators to match that intensity and play with passion.
There is one more big step to take, boys. You have always said that the Wings are your measuring stick.
Time to measure up.
My three stars:
1. Pekka Rinne
2. Kevin Klein
3. Marty Erat
About the Author: A native Nashvillian that grew up with minor league hockey, I'm now a devoted Predators fan and NHL follower. I have had the privilege of allowing my children to grow up watching the Predators and seeing the joy on their face when they are at a game. By day, I am a partner in an independent investment management company in the Nashville area. I played collegiate football and graduated from the University of South Carolina and graduated from the LSU graduate School of Banking. So yes, there are real true southern hockey fans in these non-traditional markets.