A common cliché in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is that every game is a “must-win.” For the Nashville Predators, that’s no longer just a saying.
After a Game Four loss in triple overtime to the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night that didn’t end until Wednesday morning, a contest that became the longest game in Nashville franchise history at exactly 101 minutes, the Preds find themselves down three games to one in their best-of-seven Western Conference Quarterfinals series with the Hawks.
Game Five is set for Thursday night in Nashville, and for the Predators, now more than ever, it’s one game, one period, one shift at a time.
“You really just need to focus on one game, but it’s really the only game that matters,” Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette said Wednesday after the team returned to Nashville. “There’s no Game Seven that can be played and no Game Six that can be played [yet]. The focus remains in the single identity, and we’ve said that one game doesn’t really have to do with the other game.
“We’re back home here, we’re in our building with our fans and they’ve been great all year. You know there’s going to be a lot of energy in the building, and we’ll need that energy; certainly we can use it, and I think our guys will be ready to play. We’ve got a real quality group of individuals in there that play hard and have a lot of confidence in what they’re doing.”
Predators forward James Neal has been in this situation before, but on the team that has held a 3-1 series advantage, only to see it slip away. Laviolette’s Philadelphia Flyers went down three games to none in a 2010 series against Boston, only to win Games Four, Five, Six and Seven.
“You’ve got to win four games in a series,” Neal said. “Momentum changes really quickly, and with Chicago coming in our rink, they know how hard it’s going to be to close out a series.”
The Preds are well aware that the odds are against them. Prior to this postseason, of the 276 teams in Stanley Cup Playoff history who have gone up 3-1 in a series, only 27 of them have squandered that lead. Perhaps club No. 28 just so happens to be facing a team sporting Gold this time around.
“We have a great group of guys, everyone’s tight on the team and when you have a tight-knit team like that, you just want to do it for each other,” defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “It showed [in Game Four]; we were all in, whether it was blocking shots or doing things out of our comfort zone. We didn’t get that goal [in overtime], but it showed a lot of character about our team. We have a chance tomorrow to take it back and bring it into Chicago. You never know what happens when a team gets rolling.”
It’s been done before, so why not again? The Preds may be down, but they’re not out. There’s another cliché that couldn’t be more true.
“We’ve got lots of fight left in us,” Neal said. “We’ll just take it one period at a time, one game at a time and get back to Chicago.”