NASHVILLE -- When the Predators host the Detroit Red Wings in Game 5 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series on Friday, they have a chance to achieve a huge milestone for their franchise.
With a 3-1 series lead, a win lets them advance, but more than that, it will allow the Preds -- for this season, at least -- to know that they have surpassed the organization against which they have always had to measure themselves.
At practice on Thursday in preparation for the game, the Preds did their best to expunge those thoughts from their heads. Coach Barry Trotz said he thought it was instructive for his team that on Wednesday both NHL teams that held 3-0 series leads, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, both failed to eliminate their opponents.
"It gave us a good illustration to talk to the guys about seeing how hard it is," Trotz said of finishing off an opponent.
Trotz and some of the Preds also noted that Detroit trailed San Jose three games to none last season in the second round but rallied to force a Game 7, which the Red Wings ultimately lost.
In their history, the Preds had lost their first five games when they faced elimination, finally staving it off in Game 5 against Vancouver in the conference semifinal round last year. They lost in Game 6, making them 1-for-6 all time. However, in their one chance to eliminate an opponent -- Game 6 in the first round last year -- they ousted Anaheim.
"Last year we had a chance and we closed it out, played a really solid game at home," said goalie Pekka Rinne, who stopped 81 of 84 shots the last two games for a .964 save percentage, "but there's also examples where we didn't a few years back in Chicago (in '10, blowing a late lead in Game 5 with a chance to lead the series 3-2) and also we had our chances against Vancouver last year. Those are all kind of things we have to learn from."
Trotz was focused mostly on the nuts and bolts of what Nashville needs to do to win on Friday. Nashville was outshot by more than a 2-to-1 ratio in its two games in Detroit (84-39) and Trotz wants to change that and to spend more time in Detroit's end of the ice.
"We tried to do a couple of adjustments," he said. "We have to manage the puck a little better. I think they've done a real good job of that against us....
"I know we can play a lot better in this series. We just have to focus on the game. We focused on ourselves a little bit (in practice on Thursday). I think we got away from that in Detroit."
Some of the adjustments could include lineup changes. A big boost could come from defenseman Hal Gill, who practiced fully with the team for the first time in two weeks since suffering a lower-body injury. The Preds acquired Gill in February for their playoff run and he led the team in shorthanded time on ice and blocked shots. He averaged 18:02 with Nashville in the regular season and during the postseason his replacements have averaged about seven minutes per game, putting more pressure on All-Stars Ryan Suter and Shea Weber.
"I think I'm progressing and I'm doing all the right things and talking to the trainers and the coaches," said Gill, who said he needed to speak to the trainers after talking to the media.
Trotz said the team would know more on Friday morning but said that the steps that Gill took on Thursday were "very important."
The Preds also could have rookie forward Craig Smith in the lineup. Smith, who has yet to play in the postseason, practiced on the fourth line with center Paul Gaustad and wing Brandon Yip. Jordin Tootoo and Matt Halischuk have alternated playing on that line in this series but they practiced on a line centered by Colin Wilson, who has yet to play in the postseason.
As the Preds evaluate the last two games, they both presented a different set of circumstances. In Game 3, the Preds built two two-goal leads and leaned on their goalie to protect them, electing not to take almost anything resembling an offensive chance in the third period. In Game 4, they had to withstand Detroit's initial onslaught, which they did, but took long doing so. They entered the third period scoreless, but scored first once again, as they have done in each of their victories.
Trotz also said the Preds made too many mistakes.
"I think on the road sometimes you just want to simplify your game and at times we simplified it too much and at times we simplified it not at all," he said. "We made too many mistakes. We got away with a few too many mistakes in the last two games. Hopefully, we've got it through to everybody to have the right mindset that if you don't clean it up, those are going got come back and haunt you."
Trotz's theme lately has been that while his team is motivated, the Red Wings have played desperately. He wants the Preds to be desperate. The players were sounding that theme.
"We've got to be desperate, too," said rookie defenseman Roman Josi. "We can't lay up because we have a three-one lead. They're dangerous. They've done it before."