Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
The Predators knew things weren’t going to be easy going into Game 3 against Detroit inside the storied Joe Louis Arena, however I’m not sure anyone could have predicted the level of work they would have to undergo before the final horn sounded Sunday afternoon.
With a goal and an assist from defenseman Kevin Klein and a 43 save performance from Pekka Rinne, the Nashville Predators are slowly following in the footsteps of their predecessors from a year prior by earning their first ever playoff win inside The Joe.
However, that wasn’t the entire tale of the tape tonight, there were multiple “firsts” in this series for both teams, including surprises abound.
The main story of the day was two-fold: how the Red Wings’ fans were going to respond to Shea Weber in his first trip to The Joe since the controversial hit on Henrik Zetterberg and the fact that the Predators were 0-6 lifetime inside Joe Louis Arena. Well, coming as a shock to absolutely no one, Shea Weber was summarily booed every single time he touched the puck and the Nashville Predators walked out with a 3-2 win.
While Weber played 27+ minutes during the tilt and scored the Predators first goal of the game (which was the first powerplay goal of the series for the Predators), the story of the night for Nashville was the stellar play of defenseman Kevin Klein and goaltender Pekka Rinne.
Kevin Klein showed flashes of Bobby Orr when he scored his goal at the 3:50 mark of the second period to give Nashville a 2-0 lead at the time. Including saving a SURE goal against Cory Emmerton who had a wide open net and with the Predators getting the win tonight, I believe that can be dubbed as the Kevin Klein Hat Trick (1 goal, 1 save, 1 win).
Now, Pekka Rinne on the other hand? Just another day at the office. Stopping 43 of 45 shots, Rinne gave the Predators a 2-1 lead in the series, which is their FIRST ever 2-1 lead against Detroit in a playoff series. Rinne is now 16-0-2 when making 35 or more saves in game (if my math is correct, and this INCLUDES game 1 and 3 against Detroit). You can’t ask for much more from your goaltender, however from the entire team? Yeah you could ask a little more from them, but I digress…and enter into my things to take out of Game 3:
1) NEGATIVE - Boy oh boy, talk about a switch being flipped. Nashville played a dynamite first 30 minutes of the game…however the final 30 minutes? Nashville mustered a total of SEVEN shots. Comparing that to the 15 they put on Jimmy Howard in the first 30 minutes doesn’t really do it justice either, as the Red Wings completely outworked the Predators on both ends of the ice over the course of the remainder of the game.
I’m not sure what Coach Trotz will do to work on that, but the playoffs are only going to get more difficult from here on out. Even though Rinne enjoys the busy workload, there’s no way in my mind that Nashville can continually survive against 40+ shots every game. They say the game is played over a span of 60 minutes. To my knowledge, the Predators haven’t put together a full 60 minute effort yet, but still lead the series 2-1.
While that is amazing in and of itself, Nashville has a whole ‘nother gear they can shift to, and they’ve yet to do that in this series.
2) POSITIVE - Anyone who has doubted the play of Kevin Klein this season can please exit through the gift shop at this time. Yes, every player makes boneheaded moves from time-to-time, however Kevin Klein has been one of the brighter spots on the Nashville Predators blue line this season, and it showed again tonight.
With a 2 point night and a KEY save on Cory Emmerton’s shot on net 5:41 into the third period, Kevin Klein was my choice for the hero of the game AND the number one star. If Hal Gill gets back by Tuesday, Friday at the LATEST, Nashville’s defense will go from great to excellent instantaneously.
3) NEGATIVE - What are the Predators going to do with their fourth line? Yip had 7:08 TOI for Game 2 and that was dropped to 5:09 for Game 3. Jordin Tootoo didn’t even break 10 minutes tonight with his measly 6:04 TOI for the game. So, let me be the first to present this idea:
Scratch Tootoo/Yip and replace them with Wilson and either Halischuk/Smith. You’d have to believe that Colin Wilson is itching to get back into the lineup while currently serving his time in the proverbial doghouse. Even if he’s NOT in any kind of doghouse, Wilson could power up that fourth line and give Coach Trotz the ability to roll all 4 lines throughout the game.
Gaustad already has 10+ minutes in both Game 2/3 (10:08 Game 2, 15:10 Game 3), putting in players that haven’t had a chance yet will at least give them the opportunity to prove themselves.
It’d be infinitely more fun than seeing Yip and Tootoo average less than 6 minutes a game.
4) POSITIVE - The first line finally broke out. After combining for 3 shots on net and 0 points/+0 in Game 1, 4 shots on net and 0 points/-6 in Game 2, the trio of Martin Erat/Mike Fisher/and Sergei Kostitsyn combined for 3 shots on net and 1 goal, 2 assists, and a +2 in Game 3.
I know, that doesn’t sound like a breakout, however Nashville needed the top line to contribute to the scoresheet and that’s what they did this afternoon. If it took them 3 games to finally breakout, just imagine what they have the potential to do in the final games of the series.
Now, if the Predators can just get Radulov a little more time on the scoresheet (0g, 2a, +2 in 3 games), they’d be set.
Nashville will have their hands full come Tuesday night in The Joe, however they’ll also have an opportunity they’ve never had before: A chance to take a 3-1 series lead with the ability to eliminate Detroit at home in Game 5.
You have to imagine that Nashville want’s that opportunity VERY badly. Expect another 3-2 game, as all the games have ended with a 3-2 score….but just as I say that it’ll probably be a 4-0 game.
Can the Predators sweep the Wings in their 2 games at The Joe? Will the series come back to Nashville tied 2 games apiece? We’ll find out in about 48 hours.