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Predators know fast bounce-back is needed

by Brian Hedger
CHICAGO – The Nashville Predators sat at their lockers Saturday evening with blank stares and their pads still strapped in place.

The sting of losing Game 5 to the Chicago Blackhawks in a tight Western Conference Quarterfinals series was still fresh in their minds. Like most who watched the overtime thriller, the Preds couldn’t believe what transpired.

They’d just seen Chicago’s Patrick Kane backhand a shorthanded goal past Pekka Rinne off a rebound to tie it with just 13.6 seconds left in regulation. Then Marian Hossa scored the game winner just 10 seconds after being released from the penalty box after a major boarding call gave Nashville a power play for the first four minutes of overtime.

It was a surreal ending. Suddenly the Preds were down 3-2 in the series instead of up by a game headed back to Nashville for Monday’s Game 6 (9 p.m. ET, TSN). They looked stunned in the aftermath, but vowed to bounce back strong Monday.

"I’m not really worried about how it ended," said forward Steve Sullivan, who assisted on Nashville’s first goal and finished plus-1 during 19:56 of ice time. "You know … it ended. We’ve got to find a way to regroup here and get ready for the next one."

Sitting just a few feet away was forward Joel Ward, who tallied a goal and an assist. Ward was also standing in front of the Nashville goal when Kane slid in behind him, scooped a rebound near his feet and flicked it into the goal to give the Hawks new life. In the Chicago dressing room, Kane called it the biggest goal that he’d ever scored.

Ward just hunched his shoulders and tried to explain what happened.

"There were two guys in front of me, and they just got a rebound and put one in," he said. "I don’t know what else to yell you. It definitely hurts to lose."

Ward also had the puck deflect off his stick right to Hossa on the game winner. He looked dazed, but was blunt when asked how the Preds will respond.

"You’ve just got no choice," he said. "It’s do-or-die now. Simple as that. It was a tough loss, but we’ve got no choice but to get back home and win there."

They can also learn something from it -- particularly how to play with a lead late in games. After Hossa’s penalty, the Predators centered the puck on their power play in the Hawks' zone instead of keeping it near the boards with the clock winding down.

That allowed Jonathan Toews to collect the puck and bring it up while Hawks goalie Antti Niemi skated off for an extra attacker to make it 5-on-5. Kane scored not long after, and just like that the Preds went from the verge of stealing one to the verge of letting it slip away.

"That would have been a steal for sure if we’d have won that game, but we didn’t deserve it," Rinne said. "We just have to learn from this. Those last few minutes we have to play winning hockey. Now it’s going to be a big test on Monday. We’ve got to bounce back."

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