The morning after: Predators cash in on their chances, retake home ice advantage
By Seth Lake
Looking to rebound from their loss in Game 2 at home, the Nashville Predators entered Sunday’s matinee at Joe Louis Arena having yet to defeat the Detroit Red Wings on the road in the playoffs in their previous six attempts.
Nashville got off to a strong start earning an early power-play attempt that they were able to cash in on to take the lead, got a strong penalty killing effort early in the 2nd period that turned into a Kevin Klein highlight reel goal, and got the game-winning goal late in the 3rd period on a 3-on-1 opportunity to support Pekka Rinne’s 41 save performance and take back home-ice advantage in the best of seven Western Conference Quarterfinal Series.
- Power Play Comes to Life – After going a combined 0-for-12 in the first two games of the series, the Predators got an early opportunity to break out of their slump when Drew Miller went to the box for goaltender interference after crashing into Pekka Rinne in his crease on a rush up the ice just 1:35 into the game. Starting with Andrei Kostitsyn, David Legwand, and Alexander Radulov up front with Ryan Suter and Shea Weber at the points due to Mike Fisher’s line being on the ice and at the end of their shift when the penalty was called, the Predators power play quickly established possession in the Detroit end of the rink with a faceoff win and went to work eventually setting up Weber for a slap shot from the point that broke Pavel Datsyuk’s stick. Radulov jumped on the rebound and worked the puck into Kostitsyn standing at the top of the crease who quickly spun and tried to elevate the puck over Jimmy Howard in close. The puck deflected off of Howard and high into the air where coming in from his point position Weber was able to find it and bury his chance through Datsyuk’s legs and into the open net to give Nashville an important 1-0 lead. In this series, the team scoring the first goal of the game is 3-0 thus far. During the regular season the Predators were 35-3-4 when scoring the first goal of the game.
- Klein Steps Into Spotlight – A two-way defensive defenseman, Kevin Klein is usually good for around one highlight reel goal per year and typically is at his best when you aren’t noticing him in the game. On Sunday afternoon, in front of a national audience, he stepped up and grabbed the spotlight in a big way for the Predators. Starting with the puck in his own end early in the 2nd period, Klein made a quick outlet pass to Martin Erat skating through the neutral zone and immediately took off realizing that he was unchecked and could jump into the play to support the rush and create an outnumbered attack. As he approached the Detroit blueline, Erat saw the defense collapsing around him and moved the puck over to Klein bursting through the middle of the rink with speed. Klein made a quick deke around Brad Stuart drawing a hooking call, but fought through it and came in on Howard all alone beating him with a little head fake and a quick snap shot over the glove and underneath the crossbar to extend the Predators lead to 2-0. Early in the 3rd period while defending against a quickly developing 2-on-1 opportunity against, Klein backchecked hard through the middle of the ice to make a sliding stick save on Cody Emmerton’s chance at a wide-open net after the rebound of Drew Miller’s shot from the wing came out to the back post and onto Emmerton’s stick for his second highlight of the afternoon on his big day.
- Josi Gets His Pocket Picked – With David Legwand and Johan Franzen in the penalty box and the team’s skating 4 on 4, Nashville controlled the puck deep in their end of the rink and were to move out in transition when the puck was reversed back behind the net to Roman Josi. Unfortunately for Josi though, Pavel Datsyuk, the NHL’s leader in takeaways this season, had skated in behind him and quickly took the puck away from him with two quick stick checks and tucked it into the net before Rinne or Josi could react to cut the lead in half and start the ball running for the Red Wings. Detroit was able to build off of the momentum and finished the 2nd period in full control of the game forcing the Predators back on their heels and appearing to have tied the game at the buzzer on a power-play goal until it was determined that the puck crossed the goal line after time expired. To his credit, Josi regrouped after losing the puck and played well down the stretch finishing the game with 21:37 of ice time overall.
- Top Line Cashes In – With just one assist to their names through the first 160 minutes of the series (Erat assist on Klein’s 2nd period goal), the Predators top line of Sergei Kostitsyn – Mike Fisher – Erat had remained off the scoresheet until they broke through with a big goal late in the 3rd period. Pinned in their defensive zone for virtually all of the 3rd period, the Predators had been collapsing around Rinne’s net defensively and were unable to breakout with possession of the puck until Klein used body position to shield off Niklas Kronwall hunting down a rebound just long enough to let Fisher skate away with the puck and turn the play up ice. Fisher quickly moved the puck to Kostitsyn slashing through the neutral zone with Erat sending them in on a 2-on-1 and quickly followed up the play creating a 3-on-1 opportunity for the Predators. With Stuart back defending against the pass across to Erat, Kostitsyn snapped the puck quickly to the far post beating Howard above his pad and below his blocker in much the same shot as he used during his breakaway attempt in Game 1. The goal was Kostitsyn’s first since March 8th against Colorado and broke a 12-game scoreless streak dating back to March 18th at Anaheim.
- Penalties Give Detroit Life – With the Red Wings taking the first two penalties of the game, the Predators knew that they would need to stay disciplined and avoid putting themselves in situations where the referees could call a penalty against them to even things out, but they did not. David Legwand took a tripping minor in the 1st period giving Detroit life after a failed clear at the Nashville blue line. Jordin Tootoo put the Wings on the man advantage with a roughing minor retaliating against Henrik Zetterberg holding his stick as they went into the corner at the start of the 2nd period. Sergei Kostitsyn took another retaliatory penalty very late in the 2nd period taking a high-sticking minor against Daniel Cleary that gave the Red Wings an extended power play to enter the 3rd period. Finally, Legwand was called for a holding minor late in the 3rd period with the Predators defending a 3-1 lead. The penalty kill was up to the task. Led by Paul Gaustad and Nick Spaling, Nashville killed off the first three penalties and appeared to be on their way to a fourth kill before Zetterberg beat Rinne with a quick wrist shot under his arm as the game entered its final minute. Both teams finished the day 1 for 4 on the power play, but it was Detroit that appeared to get the best of their advantages turning the opportunity into a momentum builder and seizing control of the game after all but their second advantage (when Klein scored in transition). Discipline was an issue in Game 1, but appeared to right itself during Game 2. Moving forward the Predators will need to remain disciplined and avoid taking retaliatory penalties, especially on the road, that give Detroit momentum in the game.
- Lineup Changes – For the second straight game, Predators head coach Barry Trotz dressed 13 forwards and 7 defensemen for the pre-game warm ups prior to handing in his lineup card. However, unlike Game 2 when he kept the roster intact from Game 1, on Sunday afternoon he decided to make a couple of roster adjustments replacing Matt Halischuk (upper body injury) with Jordin Tootoo up front and Jack Hillen with Ryan Ellis on the back end. Both saw limited minutes in their roles, but each had an impact for the team with Tootoo throwing 3 hits and blocking a shot in 6:04 from the fourth line in addition to picking up his roughing minor. Ellis contributing to the second power play unit logging 2:32 of ice time alongside Roman Josi and playing 7:50 overall on 9 shifts. Ellis too threw 3 hits in his playoff debut and demonstrated his poise with the puck during an advantage in the 2nd period setting up Josi for a shot from the point off a nifty pass eluding pressure from the penalty kill. It’ll be interesting to watch if Trotz keeps Tootoo in the lineup for Game 4 or re-inserts Halischuk or another player into the spot. Should Hal Gill (lower body injury) not be able to return on Tuesday night, it appears Ellis might have earned himself another game in the series.
Starts and Stops
- On his big day, Kevin Klein was robbed during the Three Stars selection at the end of the game. Chosen by Kevin Weekes from Hockey Night in Canada and the NHL Network, Shea Weber received the No. 1 star honors with 1 goal on a team-high 4 shots and a game-high 27:06 time on ice. Pavel Datsyuk received 2nd star honors with a goal, an assist, and a game-high 4 takeaways in 22:27 time on ice and Pekka Rinne deservedly earned 3rd star honors making 41 saves on 43 shots. While strong cases can be made for all three selections, Klein had a great game for the Predators scoring a goal, assisting on the game-winning goal, logging a total of 22:58, and blocking two shots, none bigger than his block on Emmerton to keep the Predators up by a goal late in the 2nd period.
- During the 2nd intermission, NBC commentator Mike Milbury choose footage of Alexander Radulov hanging around the neutral zone and failing to break across the Detroit blue line with possession of the puck before heading off for a line change to question Radulov’s effort thus far in the playoffs. While Radulov has not lit up the scoreboard as some expected him to do, he has been a dangerous player in this series for the Predators picking up 2 assists, 6 shots on goal, and a +2 rating through 3 games. Milbury’s game footage was at the end of a shift when Radulov’s linemates were heading off for a change when he saw a turnover to the Nashville defense, Radulov moved into position for a breakout pass and attempted to break into the Detroit zone to establish possession and allow his teammates to come into the zone with speed. When he was unable to do so, Radulov moved the puck back for a regroup and headed off the ice for a line change. Last month Milbury decided to call out Alexander Semin on a Sunday afternoon national broadcast calling him “lazy” in a game at Madison Square Garden. Semin responded in the 3rd period making Milbury look foolish. One can only hope that Radulov gets to see a clip of Milbury’s comments in between games 3 and 4 to serve as motivation to prove him wrong once again.
- Nashville had a strong day in the faceoff dot winning 32 of the 58 draws (55%). Paul Gaustad led the way winning 12 of his 19 attempts (63%), followed closely by Legwand (9-6, 60%) in the circle. Fisher took the most attempts for the Predators winning 8 of 20 opportunities (40%) and Spaling won 3 of his 4 draws for a 75% winning percentage. Faceoff wins were important to the Predators early start, controlling the puck off draws and allowing them to apply pressure to Detroit early. Gaustad’s wins in the faceoff circle while shorthanded throughout the day were another key in the Predators victory as well.
- Finishing the season with a 6-1 drumming of the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina affiliate), the Milwaukee Admirals qualified for the Calder Cup Playoffs for the 10th consecutive season on Sunday. After seeing Anthony Bitetto join the team from Northeastern (Hokey East – NCAA) earlier in the week, the Admirals will have Josh Shalla join the team on Monday after his junior career ended this weekend as the Saginaw Spirit were eliminated from the OHL playoffs.