The Nashville Predators will try to eliminate the Detroit Red Wings at Bridgestone Arena on Friday night. The Predators have a 3-1 series lead for the first time in franchise history. On Tuesday night, the Predators beat the Red Wings by a 3-1 score to push Detroit to the brink of elimination.
Gabriel Bourque has three goals in four games.
There have been two keys to Nashville winning three of the four games played during the series.
“Pekka [Rinne] and timely goals,” Predators forward David Legwand explained. “We got outplayed the first two periods and hung around. Pekka kept us in it. We came up big in the third period. That is fortunate for us.”
The Predators have been led by the stellar play of Rinne who maintains a 2.01 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage compared to Detroit netminder Jimmy Howard’s 2.78 goals-against average and .879 save percentage.
In Game 3 and 4, the Predators beat Detroit at Joe Louis Arena because the Finnish netminder stole the games, making 40-plus saves in both contests. Rinne has made at least 35 saves in each of the three wins the Predators have posted throughout the series.
Up front, two unlikely heroes have emerged to lead Nashville on offense. Rookie Gabriel Bourque has three goals in the series and defenseman Kevin Klein has two goals and one assist.
Bourque’s three goals include two goals in Game 1, which coincided with his NHL playoff debut. With the three goals, Bourque ties Alexander Radulov for the franchise record for most goals by a rookie in a playoff season. Radulov set the record in 2007 when Nashville played San Jose in the Western Conference quarterfinals.
“I’m trying to keep it simple and go to the net. I just have to keep going to the net and other small details. For sure, the game is way faster than it was in the AHL and Junior. It is pretty awesome so far with three big wins. I can’t ask for better,” Bourque said of his rookie playoff campaign.
At practice on Thursday, Bourque remained on a line with Radulov and Legwand. The trio skated together for one shift in the second period, but was put together again in the third period of Tuesday’s contest, scoring just 1:55 into the final frame.
Legwand scored his first goal of the playoffs late in the third period on the power play. It had appeared the Michigan native scored earlier in the period but the goal was waived off because the referee had intented to blow the whistle declaring the play dead. Radulov has three assists in the series, including setting up Bourque’s goal from behind the Detroit net early in the third period.
Klein will put his two-game goal streak on the line when the puck drops on Friday night. It is the first time in Klein’s career that he had goals in consecutive games, including during the regular season.
“I don’t think I’m jumping in the play anymore than usual, maybe once or twice last game. Marty [Erat] just happened to make an unbelievable play to get me the puck. It’s just one of those things, being in the right place at the right time. It worked out the past couple of games.”
While rookies and stay-at-home defensemen are not typically known as the most likely candidates to lead a team’s offense in the playoffs, an unlikely hero is not all that uncommon. Last season, it was Joel Ward who led Nashville’s offense with 7 goals and 6 assists in 12 games. During the regular season, Ward had only scored 10 goals in 80 contests.
Whether or not Bourque and Klein continue to play the role of playoff hero as the postseason continues remains to be seen. One thing is clear, however. The Predators will continue to rely on Rinne to carry the load on the back end as Nashville plays a patient game, looking for breakdowns in coverage that allow for those timely goals Legwand has called key to Nashville’s success.
The puck drops at 7 pm CDT on Friday night at Bridgestone Arena. If the Predators don’t close out the series, Nashville and Detroit will head back to Joe Louis Arena for Game 6 on Sunday.