Predators follow formula, beat Detroit to take 3-1 series lead
By Seth Lake
Entering Sunday afternoon’s game at Detroit, the Nashville Predators were winless in six previous trips to Joe Louis Arena playing against the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Leaving Detroit on their flight Tuesday night, they are undefeated at Joe Louis Arena in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs taking a commanding 3-1 series lead with a 3-1 victory.
Through the first four games of their Western Conference Quarterfinals series, the Predators had seen a number of trends develop for the winning team in each game. On Tuesday night, they took advantage of those trends, following the formula to success thus far in the series.
Score First – The team that has scored first in each of the games in this series has gone on to win the game. Scoring first gives the team momentum. It allows them to loosen the grip on their sticks a little bit and play their brand of hockey. Both the Predators and Red Wings have a defined style of play that suffocates and frustrates their opponent.
The Predators appeared to get on the board first, early in the third period, when David Legwand stuffed the puck past Jimmy Howard holding tight against the left post 1:28 into the finale frame. The referee, however, ruled that he had lost sight of the puck and blew his whistle prior to the puck entering the net. Being that it is the referee’s discretion as to when the play is dead, the call was not reviewable despite replays clearly showing the puck entering the net prior to the actual whistle. Nashville was undaunted and immediately followed up with more pressure at the Detroit net.
It paid off when Alexander Radulov’s attempted cycle to Francois Bouillon in the corner deflected off Todd Bertuzzi’s skate and straight out to the slot where Gabriel Bourque was standing alone. It was Bourque’s third goal of the series and Radulov’s third assist. When the Predators have scored first this season they are 38-3-4 combined between the regular and post-season.
Get Outshot – The team that has been outshot in each of the games during the series has been undefeated. It a byproduct of leading. The team that is trailing will play with more desperation and throw more pucks to the net trying to create scoring opportunities. Tonight the Red Wings outshot the Predators by a 41-17 margin, due as much to their game plan and power plays as it did their increasing desperation as time wore down in the game.
Detroit outshot Nashville in all three periods, dominating the statistic especially in the second period outshooting the Predators by a 17-3 margin in the middle frame. Pekka Rinne was up to the task for the Predators all night long, making 40 saves and allowing few rebounds for the Red Wings to pounce on as they crashed the net and challenged Rinne’s crease looking for loose pucks. When being outshot by their opponent the Predators are a combined 35-18-4 over the course of the regular and post-season.
Score 3 Goals – The team scoring 3 goals in this series remains undefeated through the first four games. It’s no secret for the Predators. When scoring 3 or more goals this season the Predators are a combined 40-7-3 between the regular and post-season. David Legwand scored the third goal of the night for the Predators in the dying seconds of the game as Nashville looked to hold onto the lead on the power play with Henrik Zetterberg in the box for Detroit for high-sticking Shea Weber.
Legwand, Martin Erat, and Sergei Kostitsyn were out for the power play, but appeared to be content keeping the puck along the boards deep in the Detroit end much more than they appeared to be interested in scoring. Kostitsyn held the puck deep against the back boards to Jimmy Howard’s left, taking abuse from three Red Wings looking to free the puck. Erat remained in position above the goal line looking to support against any rush against and Legwand maintained goal side positioning to Kostitsyn’s right looking to contain any quick transition.
After repeated cross-checks from Jonathan Ericsson, the puck came free to Daniel Cleary who looked to skate it up the ice, but just as quickly as the puck came out to Cleary, Legwand moved over from his position to the right of the pile to sweep the puck off of Cleary’s stick and into the net past a surprised Howard. Despite all his hard work holding the puck deep in the Detroit end, due to Cleary taking possession of the loose puck, Kostitsyn did not pick up an assist on the goal.
Klein Remains In Spotlight – Stepping into the spotlight on Sunday afternoon scoring a highlight reel goal and making a key shot block to help secure Nashville’s 3-2 victory in Game 3, Kevin Klein jumped up into the rush once again on Tuesday night scoring the game-winning goal at 6:25 of the third period. Erat made the play happen, taking a pass from Mike Fisher in the neutral zone and entering the Detroit end with speed. Recognizing a gap in the defense, Erat attacked the seam driving through the middle and drawing all three defenders with him to the corner. Seeing the gaping hole in the coverage, Klein jumped down the slot yelling to Erat for the pass and burying the centering feed into an open net.
Unlike Sunday when he was robbed of a Three Star recognition at the end of the game, Klein was named the game’s 2nd star on Tuesday night finishing the game with a goal on 2 shots, 2 blocked shots, and a team-high 3 hits in 21:00 of ice time.
Weber and Suter Log Heavy Minutes – With Hal Gill still out due to a lower body injury suffered at the end of the regular season and the team being outshot badly throughout the night, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter were leaned on heavily by Predators head coach Barry Trotz. Weber logged a game-high 31:20 of ice time, while Suter came in just behind him at 30:41. While the heavy minutes throughout regulation were likely due to Detroit’s pressure on the Nashville defense throughout the game, with the next two days off to rest prior to Friday’s Game 5 it is also likely that Trotz decided to lean more on the duo to preserve the lead.
In Gill’s absence, both Jack Hillen and Ryan Ellis have seen limited minutes as the 6th defenseman with Ellis seeing just 5:08 on Tuesday night. Gill did skate the past two days with the team while in Detroit, but has not participated in contact drills yet. With the series taking the next two days off and shifting to Nashville, it will be interesting to watch whether the man acquired to lessen the burden on Weber and Suter will be able to make his series debut on Friday night.
Stops and Starts
- After favoring Nashville through the start of the series, the number of penalties strongly favored Detroit on Tuesday night with the Predators going on the penalty kill seven times compared to just three power plays in the game. Both teams scored a power play goal in Game 4, but more importantly the Predators got several key penalty kills in the 3rd period with Nick Spaling and Paul Gaustad in particular giving a strong effort in front of Rinne.
- Winning 45 of 78 (58%) faceoffs in the game allowed Detroit to gain a lot of their momentum throughout the course of the night. However, after struggling early winning just 6 of 17 faceoffs throughout the first two periods, Gaustad stepped up in the circle winning 6 of his 10 draws in the 3rd period. David Legwand led the team winning 9 of his 15 faceoffs for a team-best 60% winning percentage.
- Matt Halischuk returned to the lineup for the Predators after sitting out Game 3 on Sunday recovering from an upper-body injury. Halischuk replaced Jordin Tootoo in the lineup, but played just 6:50 in the contest taking an interference call in the 3rd period against Henrik Zetterberg.
- Nashville enters Game 5 at Bridgestone Arena on Friday night with a 3-1 series lead for the first time in franchise history looking to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals for the second straight season. In their storied history, the Red Wings are 38-37 in Game 5’s.