A Very Special Series for the Predators
Article by Miranda Martin
With the Predators coming home for Game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals with a 3-1 series lead over Detroit, the fans at Bridgestone Arena once again has the opportunity to see an elimination game live.
But something is a little more special about this one.
This is the first time in franchise history that the team has ever taken a 3-1 series lead, and it is particularly pleasant since it is against Central Division rival Detroit. This is also only the second time that the Predators have had three wins in a series. The first time, against Anaheim in 2011, saw the Predators make their first ever appearance in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. Could history repeat itself?
But that is not the only thing making this series a special one. Firstly, and most apparent on the scoresheets, the special teams are making an impression on this series. After 17 penalties in Game 1, including 10 penalties on the Predators, the team allowed Detroit to score both of their goals on the power play. The Predators could not convert on any of their power play opportunities, including over a minute on a 5-on-3 advantage late in the first period. The Predators would not see their first power play goal until Shea Weber’s goal in Game 3. Though the Predators were ranked first in the league on the power play during the regular season, they are 2 for 17 opportunities in the series so far (11.8%). The Red Wings, however, are performing higher than their regular season percentage 16.2% (ranked 22nd in the league), converting 4 of 21 opportunities (19.1%). Both teams, interestingly enough, also were ranked amongst the least penalized teams in the league during the regular season.
It is also a special series because of the “heroes” of the games. When the Predators picked the regular season slogan of “Heroes Play Here,” most probably envisioned Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber, Mike Fisher, and other star players. One star has definitely played the hero role of the series. Goaltender Pekka Rinne has only allowed 8 goals on 138 shots, resulting in a .942 Save Percentage. In Game 4 alone, he stopped 39 of 40 shots in the 3-1 victory.
But it’s been the third and fourth liners and second defensive pairings that have been the “heroes” coming to the rescue of the team in this series. This isn’t the first time that the third and fourth liners showed their talent in the playoffs, either. Last year, Nick Spaling scored two goals in Game 6 against Anaheim, and former Predator Jerred Smithson scored the overtime goal in Game 5 of that same series. After Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock mentioned Nick Spaling and Paul Gaustad being “good matchups” for his team before Game 1, all three Predators goals came from the third and fourth lines, including one by Gaustad. Spaling also assisted on Gabriel Bourque’s game-winning goal.
Two players who have been playing particularly well are defenseman Kevin Klein and forward Gabriel Bourque. Kevin Klein has found his scoring niche in the playoffs, as well as keeping his defense strong, posting a plus-2 rating in the series. In Klein’s stellar performance in Game 3, his Bobby Orr-style breakaway goal as well as his open-net defensive save made highlight reels around the league. Even as a defenseman, he has found the back of the net twice, and both goals happened to be on the road in Detroit. In the regular season, Klein was a minus-8 and only scored 4 goals, so his postseason performance is a definite improvement. Rookie Gabriel Bourque has posted 3 goals in the postseason, including two in Game 1 alone. His playoff performance comes after the rookie posted 7 points (3 G, 4 A) in the final 10 games of the season for the Predators.
If the Predators win Game 5 on Friday, it will be the first time in franchise history that the team has taken a series in five games. It would also be the first time the Predators have beaten Detroit in a series. Winning a series this early could help the Predators with some much-needed rest before the second round.
Friday’s Game 5 looks to be another sellout at Bridgestone Arena. The elimination game starts at 7 PM CST, and can be viewed locally on SportsSouth and nationally on CNBC.