Two nights after beating Detroit with a late rally, the Nashville Predators
evened their series with the Red Wings thanks to a fast start.
The Predators got the jump on the Presidents’ Trophy winners Wednesday night as defensemen Dan Hamhuis and Shea Weber scored 32 seconds apart early in the first period and Nashville held on for a 3-2 victory that tied their Western Conference quarterfinal series at two wins each.
Another defenseman, Greg de Vries, scored 6:35 into the second period — knocking out Dominik Hasek in the process — and Dan Ellis made 39 saves as the Predators assured themselves of a return to Nashville for Game 6 on Sunday. Game 5 is Friday night in Detroit.
“We’re in a best-of-3 series now and we’re going home,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “We have to get better. We have to push them real hard.
“I still feel pretty good about our situation.”
To win the series, the Predators still have to win a game away from the Sommet Center, something they’ve never done in four trips to the playoffs.
“We’ve got to win a road game,” coach Barry Trotz said. “We haven’t done that.”
Nashville scored twice in nine seconds late in the third period to stun the Wings and win Game 3. This time, they got two quick goals to start the game — and Detroit never recovered.
With Niklas Kronvall in the penalty box for hooking, Hamhuis scored his first career postseason goal, firing a shot from the left circle over Hasek's glove off a pass from Alexander Radulov at 5:18.
“I thought that was huge,” Trotz said of getting the first goal, something the Predators hadn’t done in the first three games of the series. “I thought we played a really solid first period.”
Weber beat Hasek for a 2-0 lead at 5:50, a goal that appeared to rattle the Red Wings, who’ve given up two goals in less than 35 seconds in three straight games. They were the first two first-period goals for the Predators in the series.
Martin Erat, who assisted on both goals, nearly made it 3-0 less than two minutes later when skated around the net and tried to sneak the puck in with Hasek sprawled on his back. But the 43-year-old goalie was able to stretch out his left skate to the post and stop the puck.
“They came at us pretty hard after that first goal,” Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “We have to do a better job clearing bodies in front of the net.”
Detroit got out of the first period only down 2-0, and the Wings came out energized in the second. Pavel Datsyuk cut the margin to 2-1 with a power-play goal at 6:24 when he easily beat Ellis from the left circle as the goalie, in only his fourth NHL playoff game, came out to the edge of the circle to challenge him only to miss the puck.
But just 11 seconds later, Nashville answered when de Vries wound up and fired a slap shot that beat Hasek between the pads for a 3-1 lead. At that point, Babcock pulled Hasek, who stopped 11 of 14 shots, and replaced him with Chris Osgood, prompting the sellout crowd at the Sommet Center to give the Preds a standing, towel-waving ovation throughout a timeout midway through the period.
“It hurts when we score a goal and they answer right away,” Detroit center Kris Draper said. “When we create momentum, we have to find a way to keep it.”
The Wings responded to the goalie change by controlling the play, though they were unable to score again until Datsyuk converted a pass from Tomas Holmstrom at 3:23 of the third period.
“I thought we played a lot better in the second half of the game,” Lidstrom said. “(Ellis) played well for them, especially in the third period.” The Wings had chances the rest of the way, but Ellis protected the lead the rest of the way, with the fans on their feet for the final minutes.
“We had lots of opportunities,” Babcock said. “We had some excellent opportunities to tie the game, but it didn’t happen.”
The Predators were understandably pumped up after winning two games at home to even the series.
“We’re on even ground now,” forward Jordin Tootoo said. “It’s best out of three now.”
Osgood stopped all 13 shots he faced, and Babcock will have to decide whether to stick with him in Game 5 or go back to Hasek, who hasn’t been consistently sharp.
“I want to take a deep breath,” Babcock said when asked if he’d made a decision, adding that he wanted to talk to his coaching staff before announcing his Game 5 starter.
Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report.