In NHL history, 20 teams have rallied from a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series to advance to the next round. The Nashville Predators want to become No. 21.
Their journey begins tonight when they host the San Jose Sharks in Game 5 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal playoff series. Nashville needs three straight wins to take the series and advance to Round 2. One more loss will result in a playoff exit.
"We have to win, it's that simple," Predators defenseman Shea Weber said Friday morning. "We've got to come out with a good effort and do everything that we can."
"It's been done before," head coach Barry Trotz said of climbing out of a 3-1 hole. Teams have trailed 3-1 in a series a total of 210 times and have come back to win the series on 20 occasions.
"It's been done a number of times by a number of teams," Trotz added. "That's part of the inspiration. But I think the inspiration is the unity of our team. Our team has been unified all year and they have a good belief system. That's what you rally around. We've had a very good group, a very special group that wants this not to end tonight, so our focus is for it not to end tonight."
The Predators can build on momentum generated in Game 4, a match in which they outchanced the Sharks but were thwarted by the sharp goaltending of Evgeni Nabokov. They lost the game 3-2. Earlier in the series, the Predators lost Game 1 in double overtime at home by a 5-4 margin, then followed that up with a 5-2 victory in Game 2 at Nashville Arena. The series then shifted to San Jose where the Sharks won Game 3 by a 3-1 score and followed it with the Game 4 win. Tonight's game is in Nashville, as Game 7 would be. The series would return to the HP Pavilion at San Jose for Game 6 on Sunday.
"You can be frustrated or you can just get more determined," Trotz said after Game 4 Wednesday. "I think our team is going to be more determined. [Wednesday] we didn't get the result we wanted. I thought we played a game that we probably should have gotten a better result [from]. That didn't happen so it's over. You move forward. We're not going to waste our energy on [Game 4] now. It'll be useless. Our energy has to be fully focused on the next game and we'll see if we can bring it back to San Jose and sort of duplicate what we did [Wednesday] in terms of the effort and a lot of good things that we did. Hopefully there will be a different result."
"It's going to be a hard-nosed game tonight," forward Scott Hartnell said Friday morning. "[The Sharks] are going to want to come out hard and take the crowd out of it, get the early lead and try and trap it up, I'm sure. We're going to try to do our best to counteract that and just go after them. We'll play our game and if we play the same way we did in Game 4, hopefully some of those pucks will go in."
Though Nashville was also down 3-1 to these same Sharks last season when returning home for Game 5 of their first-round playoff series, Trotz sees few similarities. "From our standpoint, last year even when it was 2-1 I knew we were in big trouble," he said. "I felt that [the Sharks] really had their game going and there wasn't a whole lot I think we could have done to stop it really. This year I do. This year I feel this series is really even. There's only a [combined one] goal difference in the games. We've had a couple one-goal games. We've had an overtime game. The series is much closer than it was last year, even though it's 3-1, which is the same as it was last year at this point."
"We haven't played bad but we haven't been able to win the games," team captain Kimmo Timonen said Thursday after stepping off the charter flight that brought him and his teammates back from San Jose. "Whoever is in the lineup, we've got to get it done. We haven't done that. We can find so many excuses--injuries and things like that--but it's still 3-1 and we haven't lost the series yet. We've got to keep it going. Tomorrow is a new day and I'm sure we all believe we can win."
"It's going to show a lot of character if we come back," Hartnell said. "Tonight's the night we have to stir up that first win and build on that. It's not like we haven't won three in a row before this season. We've done it many times. It's just starting that first one. Getting that first one is probably the hardest."
Forward Scott Nichol perhaps best expressed the mood of the Predators locker room Friday when he was asked about the odds of Nashville coming back from the 3-1 series deficit.
"Why not us?" he asked. "We've got a great group of guys here. I think we've gone through a lot of adversity this year, going through 82 games and having one of the best records in the NHL. It's not a fluke that we had that many points.... We just want, like the old cliche, to take one game at a time and just try and get a little momentum. I thought we were skating real well last game. We've just got to keep it going."