DETROIT -- Barry Trotz is the only coach the Nashville Predators have ever known in their 13 years of existence, so it was fitting that his and the organization's 500th victory came as the result of playing "Predators Hockey."
Trotz and Nashville general manager David Poile have built one of the NHL's most successful teams on a yearly basis by drafting and signing players who fit their defensive system and living off some great goaltending.
On Friday night at Joe Louis Arena, that's exactly how the Predators beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 to achieve that milestone 500th win for Trotz, the organization and Poile -- who's now won 500 games as a GM with two franchises; he did it first with the Washington Capitals.
"I don't really think about the personal stuff," said Trotz, who spoke with reporters at length about his franchise on Friday afternoon and then, along with Poile, was given a game puck for a keepsake. "Someone said we're one of two teams with 40-plus wins in seven straight years, and I'm probably more proud about that than I am about any personal number, because that means we've done a pretty good job of being a competitive team for a good length of time."
After a number of trades orchestrated by Poile before the deadline, plus coaxing Alexander Radulov to return from the KHL, the Preds are thinking big as they head down the stretch of the regular season. This win allowed Nashville (98 points) to leapfrog the Red Wings (97 points) into fourth place of the Western Conference standings with just four games left in the regular season -- starting with another division rivalry game at home against Chicago on Saturday.
"I think our organization has grown and been a consistent producer of players," Trotz said earlier Friday. "We've drafted pretty well and I think we've produced pretty well and have become a competitive team. Now our goals are to do what everybody else sets out to do -- go deep in the playoffs and win a Stanley Cup. We used to go, 'We've got to make the playoffs, we've got to make the playoffs.' The mind-set now is that we expect to make the playoffs and we've had a lot of change in our team [since last year]."
Still, they've managed to keep the same philosophy over the years and it's paid off in what Trotz now refers to "Hockeytown South" down in Nashville. Friday's game in the original "Hockeytown" just showcased why the Predators have to be taken seriously as Cup contenders.
After more than 30 minutes of scoreless, tight-checking hockey, the Preds carved out a 3-0 lead early in the third on goals by Gabriel Bourque, Francis Bouillon and Radulov before Shea Weber put on the finishing touches by scoring into an empty net. Jiri Hudler scored Detroit's lone goal with 3:03 left in regulation, but it was far too little and much too late.
Pekka Rinne made 31 saves to get his League-leading 42nd win for the Predators (45-25-8), while Jimmy Howard started his first game since missing four in a row with a groin injury and took the loss for Detroit -- which has dropped two in a row. Howard finished with 23 saves.
After Weber's goal, the Predators made sure to secure a couple of memento pucks for Trotz and Poile to celebrate the big night for their franchise on its 500th victory.
"Obviously, [Trotz] was there for all of them and David Poile's won 500 with two franchises now," said David Legwand, a native of Gross Pointe Woods, Mich., who was the first draft pick in Predators history -- he was taken with the second pick in the 1998 NHL Draft. 'It's a great accomplishment and everyone's proud of [Trotz] and what he did. Everyone should know that it is quite an accomplishment and longevity and that sort of thing is huge."
"It means a lot to the franchise, especially Trotz being here the whole time," the Nashville captain said. "We've found a way [to be competitive]. We've just been getting better and better and we're taking steps in the right direction as a franchise. [Trotz] has been here since day one, some of the hardest days, and I can only imagine how hard it's been for him."
At the moment, Trotz's team is making life hard on almost everybody the Preds face. Detroit found that out firsthand in a game that very well might decide which team will get home-ice advantage in a potential Stanley Cup Playoffs quarterfinal matchup.
"I just think they’re a deeper team than they were," Wings coach Mike Babcock said, referring to the Predators' roster additions. "I mean, anytime you add [Hal Gill], Radulov and [Andrei Kostitsyn], they’re a deep team for sure, and we’re going to need [injured center Darren Helm] too. I think he can help us against this team or against any team, but we’ve just got to keep plugging away here.”
Helm is out with a sprained knee and could be questionable to return in a first-round series. Detroit could have used his speed and athleticism in this game -- which was difficult to find space on the ice with the Predators occupying vast expanses of it.
After a scoreless first period without many good scoring chances for either team, the Predators continued playing their favorite brand of defensive hockey and went ahead with a pair of goals in the second.
Bourque scored at 13:05 by firing a wrist shot from the top of the right circle through a great screen in front by Paul Gaustad -- another trade-deadline pickup -- to make it 1-0 before Bouillon scored his third goal of the season to make it 2-0 with just 33 seconds left in the period.
All three of Bouillon's goals have come in March. Before scoring on March 12 against Phoenix , Bouillon -- who missed most of last year with a concussion -- hadn't scored since Nov. 3 2010.
Boullion's goal in this game -- scored from the low slot after the puck kicked loose from a scramble -- came on the heels of Henrik Zetterberg being robbed by Rinne to keep the Predators ahead. Zetterberg was all set to knot the game at 1-1 when he picked up a rebound during a power play late in the second, but Rinne's diving glove save put an end to that chance quickly.
"Pekka was outstanding," Trotz said. "When it was 1-0, he had back-to-back penalty kills and he made that one save that was just ... that was Pekka Rinne. He's able to make a save like that [and] it's just incredible. It's that big save you need and then we come back and score."
Detroit also had a point blast by Nicklas Lidstrom earlier in the second that was tipped by Tomas Holmstrom hit the right post during another power play and bounce right back underneath Rinne to stop play.
Early in the third, Radulov scored his second goal since returning from the KHL earlier this month by zipping to the net and redirecting a great pass feed by Andrei Kostitsyn past Howard for a commanding 3-0 lead.
Rinne and the Nashville defense took it from there, allowing just Hudler's late goal. Radulov also assisted on Bouillon's goal for a two-point game and showed the kind of extra dimension he adds at both ends of the rink.
"He was dynamic," said Trotz, who said that he'll probably donate his own keepsake puck for display as a team memento back in Nashville. "We deal with [Pavel Datsyuk] and some of the special things he can do all the time. [Radulov] is one of those special players who can do some special things [too]. It was probably the first time for them seeing him as a mature player in this League."
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