DETROIT -- A darkened Joe Louis Arena was awash in a sea of red from oversized glow sticks and a montage of Detroit Red Wings Stanley Cup Playoffs history covering the ice surface.
It was a stirring pre-game tribute by one of the NHL's most storied franchises and exactly what Red Wings fans needed to create a loud, hostile environment to start Sunday afternoon's Game 3 of a Western Conference Quarterfinals series.
It didn't, however, seem to intimidate the visiting Nashville Predators -- who held off a furious late charge in the third period and earned a 3-2 victory for a 2-1 series lead heading into Tuesday night's Game 4 back at the Joe.
"We haven't done anything," said Nashville coach Barry Trotz, whose franchise won its first playoff victory in its third postseason series against the Red Wings. "We don't have a long history as a franchise. If we'd been in the League 100 years, we wouldn't be talking about our first playoff win in Detroit. We haven't been around for 100 years, so this is just one of those things that [we had] to get done as a franchise."
Like the first two games at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena, this one was ultimately decided by the slimmest of margins -- from an odd bounce here or there to a huge save by Preds defenseman Kevin Klein with the shaft of his stick to a fraction of a second that wiped out a game-tying power-play goal by Detroit's Johan Franzen to end the second period.
Detroit poured on the shots -- including a 19-4 advantage in the final period and 45-22 for the game -- but it was much tighter than those figures might seem. All three games in this series have finished with a 3-2 score and for good reason.
Neither team is giving up those critical inches without a fight and both are driven by the intense, physical style of play that always comes with playoff hockey.
In this game, there was no better example than Nashville defenseman Shea Weber. The Preds captain logged 27:06 of ice time, scored on a power play just 2:48 into the game for a quick 1-0 lead and got roundly booed by Red Wings fans every time he touched the puck because of an incident in the final seconds of Game 1.
"We talk about great players, when there's a little bit of controversy, stepping up,” Trotz said. "When [Weber] came to the rink, he knew he wasn't going to be the most likable player in the arena."
It just didn't matter to him or any of his teammates. After largely outplaying the Wings in the opening 20 minutes, the Predators made a statement that they weren't intimidated by the pregame hype or Detroit's impressive success this season on home ice.
Kevin Klein quickly made it 2-0 early in the second and after Detroit's resurgence led to a dazzling goal by Pavel Datsyuk later in that period, Sergei Kostitsyn added what turned out to be the game-winning goal late in the third.
Meanwhile, Nashville's Pekka Rinne stopped 43 of the 45 shots to pick up the victory -- but not before Klein, who added an assist on Kostitsyn's goal, helped snuff a golden chance in the third by Detroit rookie Cory Emmerton.
Emmerton pounced on a rebound of Drew Miller's shot off the rush at 5:41 of the final period and had a wide open net in front of him. Klein, however, stuck out his stick and somehow blocked the close-range shot to keep Emmerton from making it 2-2 with the Wings offense rolling.
As it turned out, Emmerton was the only Red Wings skater to not record a shot on goal. Once again, the inches and turns of fortune came up huge in this series -- which has already seen a number of pucks hit players and go into the net or ring off metal.
"I know [Rinne] is going to make the first save, so I just tried to get in there and get the rebound," Klein said. "I happened to get a stick on it, which is nice. I want to maybe be in the highlights once in a while. [Rinne] saves my butt so many times during the year. It’s nice to chip in and get one for him."
It continued that way in the third, with the Preds and Rinne holding off the hard-charging Red Wings, until Kostitsyn's wrister from the right circle beat Howard between the blocker arm and leg with just 3:30 left in the game to give Nashville its two-goal cushion back.
Henrik Zetterberg scored his second goal of the series to cap a Detroit power play with just under a minute left to make it 3-2, but it was too little, too late. Zetterberg, who led all players with nine shots on goal, feels like this series is destined take six or seven games to decide.
"[It] looks like that," he said. "It's close games. All three games have been close, so I'm not going to be surprised if it goes all the way here. If you look, most of the series are tight. I think it's good for hockey. You can't really pick a winner in the first round. A lot of teams are playing good hockey. It's nothing different with this matchup."
It started early in this game, with Weber's power-play goal -- scored off a rebound from the low slot after Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk had broken his stick and didn't have it to play defense.
It was Nashville's first power-play marker in the Preds' first 13 attempts, but they went 1 for 4 overall and are now 1-for 16 with the man-advantage in this series -- after finishing the season as the NHL's top-ranked team in that category.
It also ended a string of 37 straight successful penalty kills by the Wings dating back to the last seven games of the regular season. Detroit also went 1-for-4 on the power play, but the Red Wings' early penalties were again an issue -- including the goalie interference call on Miller that led to Weber's goal.
"We've got to be more disciplined, because they call this stuff," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "We got to stay out of the box. You talk about flow of the game. If you're going to be in the penalty box, that really makes it tough for you being in the box that much. You're wearing out your players killing. Even though [our] penalty-killing has been good, you're wearing yourself out."
However, one of those bad situations actually gave Detroit a lift in the second -- after Klein's second career playoff goal gave the Preds a 2-0 lead 3:50 into the period. Detroit then took a couple of penalties to create a brief 5-on-3 situation and which took life out of the revved-up Red Wings fans.
Detroit fought both penalties off, though, and heard the crowd roar to life because of it. That's when the Wings started to tilt the ice in their favor. Datsyuk finally got one past Rinne to make it 2-1 at 15:03 of the second, but it took a "Datsyukian" effort.
After losing a draw, he slipped in behind the Nashville net and picked Roman Josi's pocket to get the puck before quickly tucking it inside the post. It came during 4-on-4 play, which freed up some open ice for Datsyuk to work.
Not surprisingly, another 4-on-4 led to a Red Wings power play late in the second and Detroit came within a fraction of a second of tying it 2-2 on a rebound shot by Franzen that was wiped out by time expiring before the puck crossed the goal line.
"It was awfully close," said Detroit's Jimmy Howard, who made 19 saves. "Obviously they had the video evidence."
It was also just more of the same in an ultra-tight series that has players on both sides expecting still more of the same in the games that are left.
"We knew that there's pivotal games [in a series], this being one of them," Trotz said. "[In Game 2], I thought we played well at home and probably deserved to win and we didn't get the win. We had to respond. I liked our start. I didn't like our finish ... but when the final buzzer went off, I liked that."
1 - 0 NSH
2 - 0 NSH
2 - 1 NSH
3 - 1 NSH
3 - 2 NSH
Power Play Stats
Power Play %
% on Road
% at Home
Interference on goalkeeper