The Nashville Predators don’t make it easy on their fans. Fans, who are not accustomed to any level of success to begin with, have watched this team snatch defeat from the jaws of victory time and time again over a period of seventeen seasons.
Sure there have been moments, but only the 2010 and 2011 teams have made it to this precious second round of the post-season, and of course there are two more rounds to follow, so we are talking potentially rarified air this year.
Once again, with their backs to the wall, and the wall on fire, the Predators took to the ice at Bridgestone Arena facing a mighty tall task. Down two games to none to the visiting San Jose Sharks, the team was seemingly moving closer to their season goodbyes, and thoughts of what could have been, if only…
Nashville coach Peter Laviolette expressed optimism after game two, citing the fact that only the scoreboard expressed his disappointment in the team’s play, and that other than one game in the Anaheim series (Game 3, when the team returned home after a buoyant two game sweep to start Round One,) he’s been satisfied with the level of intensity, and performance from the majority of the roster.
Game 3 featured a pretty significant lineup change, with veteran center Mike Ribeiro sidelined on a “coaches decision,” and rookie Pontus Aberg inserted in the mix to play in his first National Hockey League game. While Aberg did not receive the amount of ice time a player like Ribeiro would usually get throughout a game, he acquitted himself nicely on a line with fellow countrymen Calle Jarnkrok and Viktor Arvidsson.
Another move Laviolette and his assistants made, involved some power play personnel. With Ribeiro out of the mix, the team inserted center Paul Gaustad, whose job was not only to win faceoffs, but also to plant himself directly in front of Shark netminder Martin Jones and make it difficult for the goalie to track the Predators shots. While the only Preds power play in period one came early, and did not yield a tally, it was immediately apparent that the new look created more opportunities and would give the team a boost if the extra-man situation were to arise later in the contest.
Unlike Games 1 and 2, the first period featured a goal, and to the dismay of the boisterous sellout crowd, it belonged to San Jose, with Patrick Marleau showing a huge burst of speed to blow by both Preds defenders (Roman Josi and Shea Weber) and deke Pekka Rinne, who came out to challenge the shooter, but was left in no man’s land as the puck slid easily into a vacated net.
In period two, the Nashville power play was put to the task when Shark forward Joonas Donskoi was handed a double minor for high sticking.
While the Preds had a difficult time at the outset of the play, they started to get their looks and shots, and sniper James Neal delivered the game’s equalizer with a brilliant snap shot that was wired high over Jones’ shoulder. Later in the period a Shark turnover at their own blueline found a puck drift directly into the wheelhouse of Weber, whose blast eluded Jones and gave the Predators their first lead. A lead that would not be relinquished, as the team added third period goals by Colin Wilson (his 3rd of the playoffs, and half his regular season output!) and Filip Forsberg, who had gone seven games without a point.
The final score was 4-1, and the Predators climbed out of a reasonably deep hole and now look to tie the series on Thursday night. The team played a virtually flawless game, save for the lone Shark goal, and the fans voiced their appreciation with non-stop cheering as the game clock ticked down to its final seconds.
While no one in the Predators dressing room had abandoned the thought that this series was going to be extended by virtue of the team’s play in their home arena, this was truly a gut check moment for a Preds squad that could have easily folded up the chairs, and started packing their bags for their off season destinations. Character ensued, and we have a strong pulse.
There is no doubt the Sharks will push back on Thursday, but smart money is on the Preds to knot this one up and send it back to San Jose all tied up. At that point a Game Six in Nashville is scheduled for next Monday, and although right now it is still listed as “if necessary” on the various websites featuring the NHL Playoff schedule, it would not surprise anyone in Preds gold to see another intense battle to start next week at Bridgestone Arena.
Keep it right here as the team continues to make strides towards uncharted waters. The roasting of the Duck, the skewering of the Shark… and ???