NASHVILLE -- In his first career playoff game, Nashville Predators rookie left wing Gabriel Bourque said he felt nerves.
By the two goals the 21-year-old third-liner scored, including the eventual game-winner with 8:25 left in regulation, it would be hard to tell. Riding the play of its bottom two lines, Nashville escaped on Wednesday with a 3-2 victory against the Detroit Red Wings at Bridgestone to grab Game 1 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series.
"At first I was pretty nervous," Bourque said. "You see a lot of noise and all that stuff. It was pretty cool. But after a couple of shifts, you feel better on the ice."
Game 2 of this series is on Friday. Nashville has met Detroit twice before in the postseason, but has yet found a way past the Wings. Each time, the series started on the road and the Preds lost the first two games. This is the first time the Preds have led the Red Wings in a series. Nashville has never won in the playoffs at Joe Louis Arena.
The Predators lost the special teams battle in a big way, but somehow managed to win – helped in no small part by the goaltending of Pekka Rinne, who made 35 saves. Detroit earned both of its goals on the power play. The Red Wings had eight attempts while Nashville, which entered with the League's top regular season unit, went 0-for-6. Both teams had two-man advantages, but neither converted on those.
The Red Wings killed all of those power plays despite losing one of their top penalty-killing forwards, Darren Helm, who was cut on his forearm by a skate and was sent to the hospital for surgery. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said after the game that he had no idea at that point of the extent of the injury, but thought it was "pretty severe."
Bourque turned in one of those performances that could turn him into one of those unlikely playoff heroes. He did not earn his call-up from Nashville until Dec. 27, but once he did he began earning rave reviews from coach Barry Trotz. Late in the season, Trotz praised Bourque's commitment level after he blocked a shot late in a game that the Preds had locked up even after they had clinched a playoff berth. The coach used the play as an example of how statistics don't matter, but on Wednesday, Bourque got on the scoresheet in a big way.
Both of the goal-scorers for Nashville earned their first career playoff goals. Checking center Paul Gaustad -- one of Nashville's key deadline day acquisitions -- got the other, but in his 39th career postseason game.
"He played a really good game tonight," Bourque said of Gaustad. "I'm sure he's played a lot of really good games before. It just didn't happen. But you have to be lucky to get the one."
Earlier in the day, Babcock said that he liked the matchups his team had against Nashville's third- and fourth-line centers, mentioning them by name, when Helm is in the lineup. Babcock referred to Gaustad's goal and Bourque's first as "seeing-eye" goals. One of those goals came with Helm in the game – the latter two did not.
Bourque downplayed Babcock's comments.
"I didn't know it," Bourque said. "Some guys know it, but I don't know it. You don't have to stop there. You have to focus on your game and your job."
Bourque got the eventual game-winner with 8:25 left in regulation, as Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling got in on the forecheck and won the puck behind the net. Hornqvist dished the puck out to wide-open Bourque in front and he banged it in.
Tomas Holmstrom converted a power play from close range with 2:07 left in regulation, setting up a wild ending. With 22.9 seconds left, Nashville's Martin Erat was called for holding. Detroit pulled goalie Jimmy Howard (23 saves), creating a 6-on-4. Nashville managed to kill off the remaining time, with, as Trotz observed, some faceoff wins by Gaustad, who won 60 percent of his draws on the night.
At the final buzzer, Nashville's All-Star defenseman and captain Shea Weber received a roughing penalty for a series of hits on Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg. Replays showed the 6-foot-4, 232-poundWeber grabbing the head of the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Zetterberg and slamming it into the glass.
Weber was asked if he thought he would need to worry about any possible further supplementary discipline.
"I don't know. He hit me from behind, so we'll see," he said. "I don't know."
Asked what sparked the incident, Weber simply said, "It's playoffs. It's playoffs."
Trotz defended his player and said he also did not think it would warrant supplementary discipline.
"Zetterberg hit him in the head first," Trotz said. "There wasn't much there. I mean, I was watching the scrum right after that with [Todd] Bertuzzi and Gaustad and Bertuzzi comes in with a big-time, you know, haymaker, so I just think Zetterberg was tired at the end and he knew Webs was there and the game was over."
For his part, Babcock seemed to reserve judgment until he got a better look at it on replay. Asked if he saw the play, he said, "Well, yeah, but I was a 180 feet away."
Early in the third period, Rinne helped to thwart a Red Wings' power play by robbing Zetterberg was stationed to the left of the net and Rinne was laying along the ice but reached up with his catching glove to stop a short wrister. Howard made a great save of his own later in the period, blunting Sergei Kostitsyn's breakaway wrist shot with his right pad.
Rinne called his save "just desperation."
"You just always need luck, too, when you make that kind of save," he said. "I knew half of the net was open. I just needed to dive there and use my soccer goalie skills."
Failing six times on the power play, Nashville edged ahead 2-1 on Bourque's even-strength goal with 7:31 left in the second period. Matt Halischuk stopped off the rush just inside the Red Wings' blue line and, with Bourque driving the net and taking a Red Wings defenseman with him that might have distracted Howard, threw an innocent-looking shot at the net. The puck hit off Bourque, catching Howard off-guard and sailed over the goalie's right shoulder.
Detroit took advantage of a cross-checking penalty to Nashville defenseman Roman Josi to even the score at 1-1 at 2:29 of the second period. On their third power play, the Red Wings worked the puck to the front of the net and Zetterberg converted a loose puck with Rinne stretched out along the ice. The goal was unassisted.
Nashville had a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:14 late in the first period but could not convert. Twice, Martin Erat set up Mike Fisher for wide-open backdoor plays during the two penalties, but the puck jumped over Fisher’s stick on one play and he misfired on a second similar one.
Gaustad earned the game’s first goal when the puck deflected off Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart's skate in front of the net at 6:59 of the first period. Gaustad skated behind the net with the puck and turned and threw the puck towards Howard with his forehand. It hit off Stuart and a combination of Howard's goal stick and trickled in.
"That's playoff hockey – just throwing the puck to the net and both times they changed direction," Howard said. "It's just unfortunate for us."