The Bridgestone Arena was rocking Wednesday night. Two divisional rivals, the Nashville Predators and the Detroit Red Wings, met in the first round of the playoffs for the third time in the history of the rivalry. In the previous two post-season matchups, Detroit came away victorious.
This time Nashville has home ice.
Both teams came out of the gate with some predictable playoff jitters, having a couple of early passes go awry. After this, things started to settle in.
It did not take long for things to get physical, with huge hits coming from both sides. Likewise, it did not take long for the referees to try to reign in the physicality, tightening up the whistles.
Just 1:59 into the game, Brandon Yip was called for a phantom roughing penalty on Thomas Holmstrom. Just a minute and a half after that, Detroit’s Johan Franzen got the same treatment with a roughing penalty on Shea Weber.
At 6:59, the Predators were on the board. Brandon Yip chased down a puck shot ahead by Francis Bouillon behind the goal and swung it around to Paul Gaustad, who then wrapped around to the side of the net and shot the puck toward the front of the net. Fortunately, the puck managed to bank the side of Brad Stuart’s skate and slide in for the early 1-0 lead over Detroit.
Nashville had four power play opportunities in the first period, and they could not score on a single one. The leagues number one power play unit in the regular season was stymied by the Red Wings, but the Predators still had effort, going in full force with aggression and intensity.
In addition to these empty power play opportunities, the Predators missed some very makeable shots, with the prime example being a face off that was stolen by Erat directly in front of the Detroit net, which caught everyone off guard and Erat had a wide open net five feet away from him. He knocked the puck off the pipe.
The Predators outshot Detroit 13-5 in the first period, and it really was not even that close. Nashville bullied Detroit in the scoring zone, holding the puck for extended stretches and coming up with rebounds and loose pucks again and again.
But you just could not shake the feeling that, against a team like the Red Wings, these missed opportunities would come back to haunt the Predators.
Almost immediately after the second period started, Detroit went on the power play; Roman Josi got two minutes for cross-checking.
Pekka Rinne really shined for a few shots on this penalty, finding the puck through traffic and stopping golden opportunities for the Red Wings. He snatched a one right out of the air. However he also gave up the game-tying score after Jack Hillen tried to clear the puck away and inadvertently set up Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg for an unassisted goal, making the score 1-1.
Nashville would get their opportunity to make something out of a power play at 4:23 in the second period with their fifth attempt at a power play in the game.
Five power play opportunities. No goals to show for it. This seems to be a theme.
At 9:28 in the second period, Nashville got yet another crack at a power play. This time it was a holding call on Kyle Quincey. Tensions were running high for the Predators, which was evidenced by Shea Weber hammering a slapshot into traffic, followed by Mike Fisher and Pavel Datsyuk getting into a small shoving match. Still no power play goals.
These concerns were quickly erased by what is probably the most impressive play of the game at 12:29 in the second period, Matt Halischuk pulled up right after crossing the blue line and shot the puck toward the goal, and it was deflected slightly before going into the net. Predators lead 2-1.
The crowd came to life, roaring on their beloved Predators who were visibly amped up to be playing hockey in the playoffs against a hated rival.
At 13:50, Martin Erat got called for roughing, which gave Detroit another power play scoring attempt in a game that was riddled with penalties to this point. Nashville killed this one off.
With just under 40 seconds left in the second period, Nashville had a blunder that almost cost them a goal. After the puck was deflected into the air, several Predators lost it and even colidied with each other, leaving Pekka Rinne vulnerable. Rinne, however, was able to cover up and save face for the Predators mistakes.
Patric Hornqvist was called for high sticking with just 5.5 seconds left in the second period, meaning the Predators would be forced to start the critical third period with a penalty kill situation.
On this power play, Henrik Zetterberg had a wide open shot at a prone Pekka Rinne, who rose into the air to smack the shot away with one hand in an incredible play to kill off the penalty for the Predators.
In an odd twist, at 5:06 the two teams went into a four-on-four after Roman Josi was called for hooking on Jiri Hudler, and then Hudler was simultaneously called for unsportsmanlike conduct for diving Josi. Neither team scored during the four-on-four.
After a couple of bad give aways in their own zone, Nashville was almost the victim of wide-open shots by the Red Wings, notably Henrik Zetterberg, but the puck took odd bounces, and the Predators got lucky. Very lucky.
Rinne stopped another point blank attempt by Pavel Datsyuk to put him at 31 saves in the game with 8:30 left.
Immediately after this, the Predators seemingly put the game away with a goal by Gabriel Bourque at 8:05, his second of the game. Bourque took the puck right in front of the Detroit net after Hornqvist tipped the puck from behind the net. The score was 3-1 Predators.
Detroit had one more chance to cut into the lead with a penalty on Jack Hillen. As Nashville was killing the penalty, Ryan Suter got called for slashing after he attempted to score a short-handed goal, giving Detroit a 5-on-3 advantage for 44 seconds.
The Predators killed off the 5-on-3 and realistically had an opportunity at a short-handed goal in the process. After that, however, the Red Wings took it to the net, scoring a goal on a rebound to cut the lead to 3-2.
An octopus was thrown onto the ice.
With two minutes left, the Red Wings made it clear that there was going to be one last push to take the game away from Nashville.
Holding was called on Martin Erat with 22.9 seconds left, giving Detroit a golden opportunity to tie the game in the closing seconds with the advantage, plus pulling their goalie. Pekka got his last incredible save of the night when Pekka Rinne snatched another Zeterberg shot out of the air with 5.1 seconds left.
After the face-off, Nashville killed off the penalty and won the game. After the final buzzer, Henrik Zeterberg was down on the ice after a rough hit from Shea Weber (dirty?), slow to get up, and there was a small fray out on the ice with several Predators and Red Wings getting into a slight altercation, but nothing serious.
Nashville leads the series 1-0.
Winning game one is an extremely important step for the Predators in attempting to make it out of the first round in back-to-back years, but it’s also important to remember that all the Predators have done is hold serve in one game. The real work has not even begun.
Game two will be back in Nashville on Friday night at 6:30 p.m. Get ready for another battle, Smashville.