Sunday, April 15, 2012

Predators Outlast the Wings, Take 2-1 Series Lead

Well, that was exciting!

The Nashville Predators faced the Detroit Red Wings at the Joe, a place where they had never won a playoff game, tied at one game apiece in their playoff series, and the two teams engaged in a back and forth contest that went down to the final seconds before the Predators captured a 3-2 victory.

Entering this game, the Predators knew they were going to be in a spirited contest, to be sure.

No, actually, it was going to a war.

The Predators knew they were going to need to come out strong, take the Wings and the crowd out of the game, and play a solid 60 minutes of hockey.

Oh yeah, Pekka Rinne had to be stronger than his counterpart for the Wings, Jimmy Howard.

Getting their dormant power play going was essential for the Predators, and they did that on their second power play opportunity. With Drew Miller in the box for goaltender interference, the Predators swarmed the Detroit net. Shea Weber, crashed the net and gathered in a rebound of an Andrei Kostitsyn shot and slammed the rebound past Howard to give the Predators a 1-0 lead at 2:48 of the first period. Finally, the Predators were able to convert on the man advantage, and the 0-12 monkey was off their back.

The first period settled down to playoff hockey, as both teams created some good chances. Both Rinne and Howard turned aside the shots that each team fired. Rinne in particular looked sharp and relaxed in net.

The first period ended with the Wings out shooting the Predators 11-9.

Just after a Jordin Tootoo penalty had expired early in the second period, Kevin Klein split the Wings D with tremendous speed and buried a shot over the shoulder of Howard to give the Predators a 2-0 lead at 3:50. Klein was sent into the zone off a nice pass from Marty Erat, and Klein's speed into the zone surprised the Wings defense. More importantly, Klein finished the play, and that goal was huge for the Predators to give them some breathing room.

The Predators needed that breathing room as Pavel Datsyuk absolutely undressed Roman Josi and stole the puck from him behind the Predators net. He beat Rinne, who was looking the other way expecting the puck to go to his right. Datsyuk tucked the puck under Rinne's pad before he could recover to make it 2-1 Predators at 15:03 of the second.

It goes without saying that Josi cannot let that play happen, As it was, the Wings now had life, and it was going to be important for the Predators to respond.

Sergei Kostitsyn took a penalty late in the period, and the Wings were swarming the Predators zone. Rinne fought off a shot by Nick Lidstrom and the rebound kicked out to Johan Franzen, and he made no mistake in depositing the puck into the back of the Predators net.

Just one problem.

The clock had just expired before the puck went into the net.

And the Predators had caught a huge break.

The Wings had out shot the Predators 13-9 in the second period, but they were energized and would have 1:49 of power play time to start the third period. It was going to be critical that the Predators respond, and especially not sit back on their heels in the third.

Detroit opened the third on the power play, and the Predators were able to kill off the penalty, but the Wings were rolling. They opened the third out shooting the Predators 7-0 and were dominant in the Predators zone. Rinne made some huge stops to keep the Wings off the board, but the Predators were going to have to begin to mount some offensive pressure. Sitting back like they were doing was going to be disastrous for the Predators.

The Predators finally got a couple of shots on net, but the Wings held a 13-2 shot advantage with just over 7 minutes remaining in the third period. The Predators tactic of sitting back and playing prevent defense was both frustrating and dangerous.

The Predators once again got some breathing room as Sergei Kostitsyn broke in on a 2 on 1 and instead of passing the puck snapped a shot over the shoulder of Howard to give the Predators a 3-1 lead at 16:30 of the third.

The Predators would need that goal as David Legwand was called for holding and the Wings tallied on the power play  as Henrik Zetterberg walked into the zone and rifled a shot over the shoulder of Rinne short side to make it 3-2 with 52 seconds remaining.

Detroit came with the full court...uh, ice press in the remaining seconds, but the Predators did a good job of controlling and clearing the puck, and the Wings could not get a shot on goal.

The final horn had sounded and for the first time ever, the Predators had won a playoff game at the Joe.

It goes without saying that Rinne was magnificent in net. His play is so strong and it has to affect the Wings, leaving them wondering if they can get an even strength goal past him (Datsyuk's flukey goal not withstanding).

How strong was Rinne? Detroit fired 43 shots on net. By contrast, the Predators managed just 22 for the game.

It is good to see Sergei Kostitsyn get on the board. He had been invisible up to this point, and finally getting on the board will hopefully get his game rolling.

The play of Kevin Klein was outstanding as he scored a beautiful goal and came up with a huge save when Rinne was out of position, stopping Cory Emmerton with a nice block of his shot. A very good game by Klein today.

The significance of this win at the Joe cannot be understated. For the Predators, it lifts that 800 pound gorilla of never winning there off their back. And for the Wings, it cracks their veneer of invincibility at home.

Yes, Detroit is a veteran team, and I expect them to come out flying in game 4. I also expect the Predators to be more calm and composed and their compete level to be extremely high. Now they know they can win at the Joe.

More importantly, they know they can win this series.

The time to take control is Tuesday.

My three stars:

1. Pekka Rinne

2. Kevin Klein

3. Sergei Kostitsyn

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