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Tonight at the GEC! Game 5 vs. Sharks

by Staff Writer / Nashville Predators

WESTERN CONFERENCE QUARTERFINAL - GAME 5

WHO:
Nashville Predators vs. San Jose Sharks (San Jose leads series 3-1)

TICKETS: Still available!! Order online, call (615) 770-PUCK or visit any Ticketmaster outlet

PROMOTION: All fans in attendance will receive free Predators Thundersticks courtesy of Bridgestone/Firestone

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. CT

WHERE: Gaylord Entertainment Center, Nashville, TN

TONIGHT THE PREDS WEAR: Blue

TELEVISION: OLN (Find OLN in your area

RADIO: WGFX 104.5 FM;
REGIONAL AFFILIATES:
WGAP 1400-AM (Maryville, TN),
WATO 1290-AM (Oak Ridge, TN),
WKVL 850-AM (Knoxville, TN),
WLOD 98.3-FM (Sweetwater, TN);
SATELLITE RADIO: SIRIUS Ch. 147, XM Ch. 207

LISTEN: Pete Weber intros tonight's game (Streaming Windows Media audio)

Tonight the Nashville Predators will attempt to pull within one game of the visiting San Jose Sharks in the teams' best of seven Western Conference Quarterfinal series. Nashville is down three games to one after losing Tuesday and Thursday at HP Pavilion at San Jose. Tonight's contest, which faces off at 7:30 p.m. CT at the Gaylord Entertainment Center, will be televised nationally on OLN and broadcast on 104.5-FM The Zone. Tickets for the contest are still available and can be purchased by calling (615) 770-PUCK, ordering online, or visiting the Gaylord Entertainment Center box office or any Ticketmaster location.

The Predators, who won Game 1 of the series but have lost three games in a row, will have to win all remaining games of the first-round matchup to advance to the Western Conference semifinals.

"Obviously we need to win three in a row," Predators captain Greg Johnson said after practice Saturday. "We've done it before this year. Our focus is just on getting a win on Sunday night."

"There's no pressure on San Jose," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. "They're up 3-1. There's some on us. We've got our backs against the wall. At the same time, there shouldn't be a lot of pressure because everybody's counting us out and they've been counting us out the whole series.

"This team has a lot of resolve. I don't think we're going anywhere in terms of throwing the white towel or anything. That's the farthest thing from our mind. Our goal is just the No. 1: win [tonight] and get back to San Jose and worry about that. Win [tonight] and everything will take care of itself. You can't look at the big picture. The big picture should be what's two inches in front of your face [tonight]."

For better and worse, Nashville has been a streaky club all season. Of particular significance for the team's current situation is the experience of stringing together seven streaks of three or more wins during the regular season while only losing four in a row twice. This time, though, a fourth straight loss would mean the end of their season.

"One of the things that we've been able to do all year is to go on streaks," Trotz said. "Early in the year when we were 8-0 [and lost a few games], people we saying they were going to hit rock bottom. We turned around and went on a streak. People said we couldn't go into Detroit and win [back-to-back] games. We did that. People said, 'Other teams will catch up with you and pass you.' They didn't. We went on another couple streaks. Vokoun went down during the year and they said, 'OK, Nashville's dead in the water,' and we went on another streak. So nothing surprises me with this group because we've got great resolve, we've got good leadership, and we've got a good work ethic."

That resolve, leadership and work ethic was evident in Game 4 Thursday in San Jose. A strong first period and a good start to the second put the Predators up 2-1. A power-play goal by Patrick Marleau evened the score before a five-on-three disadvantage for Nashville set up two more Sharks goals. Another tally by Marleau made it 5-2 4:13 into the third, at which point the Predators stormed back with some of their best hockey of late. They pulled within one and came close to netting a game-tying goal in the final minutes.

"We had a shot," Predators forward Paul Kariya said after the game. "We finally started to play good hockey in the last 15 minutes of the period. We outplayed them five-on-five. Penalties killed us again, but if we stay out of the box we're a tough team to beat. That's going to be key for us."

Penalties have been the story of the series so far. Nashville cashed in four times with the man advantage in Game 1 and San Jose expressed its displeasure with some of the calls. Since then, the Predators, who struggled with untimely penalties throughout the regular season, have been the ones frustrated--either at themselves or the officiating--in this series.

"We know how to beat San Jose," Trotz said. "Now we've just got to execute it. I think there have been the three big turning points in all three games that we've lost, and that's all resulted from a penalty or five-on-three. Our penalty killing is doing a good job but we've gotten more five-on-three's [against] in this series than we did in the last 40 games. So I don't know if that's us or if the standard is a little higher."

"We know we're playing with fire when we take that many penalties," Predators forward Scott Walker said, "but to be honest with you, [on Thursday] I think that was--I mean, some of those calls were not warranted. I'm not one to complain. I'll be the first one to say that we take some bad penalties, but geesh, I don't know what we can do. We're trying to play hockey out there. They're really taking it away from us. It's a challenge. But we've been behind the eight ball before. We've won enough games in a row before to make this a series. We've just got to go home and get back on the winning track right away.

"We're not going to get any breaks," Walker continued. "We can't whine and complain. We just have to get back on our horse and stay out of the box. We just have to try and keep sticks and hands in."

"We can't afford to take penalties," goaltender Chris Mason said. "That's the bottom line. We say it every game but we're going to be out if we do it again next game. We can't do it."

Center of attention
San Jose's second-line center, Patrick Marleau, has been red hot in the series, netting six goals in the last three games. Again, the penalties against Nashville have played a key role in his success, Trotz said. "Marleau is getting a lot of his points off the power play," Trotz said. "He's got a couple off the rush. One of them was two games ago that [Mason] would like to have back. One was on a back-door play. Five-on-five he hasn't scored a lot."

"It's kind of handy to play behind [first-line center] Joe Thornton," Walker said. "He's playing behind a guy who contains and controls a lot of our 'D' and a lot of our forwards. He's controlling the puck a long time. Patty's a great player and a great skater in his own right, but he seems to be jumping over right after Joe's been out there for a while and we're just not getting the match-up or the switch-off we want."

Top twenty
Coach Trotz altered his lineup for the first time this series on Thursday, removing energetic hitters Jerred Smithson, Scott Nichol, and Jordin Tootoo and inserting Scottie Upshall, Vern Fiddler and seventh defenseman Marek Zidlicky. He was pleased with the results and said after Saturday's practice that he would likely stick with a similar lineup.

He did divulge that he would probably utilize six defenseman, however, and judging from his use of Zidlicky in Game 4, it's a fairly safe bet that he'll make the cut. "Early we were a little tentative to use him, but as we started to use him a little bit more, he seemed to generate a little bit more for us," Trotz said.

Center Yanic Perreault, who has yet to see action in the series, may break into the lineup tonight. He was skating with Fiddler and Upshall in practice Saturday, and Trotz seemed vaguely affirmative when asked if Perreault might return Sunday. "I'm considering Yanic being in the lineup. He doesn't necessarily have to be with that line," Trotz said with a knowing smirk.

PK vs. 'PK'
San Jose's penalty killing unit has been very effective at limiting the time and space Paul Kariya has on the power play. Kariya, who is typically stationed along the right half wall, has been swarmed when he receives the puck during a manpower advantage. "They're jumping him early," Trotz said. "We've got some options that we have to reconsider. They're doing a good job. They're trying to take the puck out of his hands. Very similar to what we want to do with [Joe] Thornton when we can. You want to keep the puck out of the hands of the good players. That's key."

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