|Scoring first Friday will play a big part in the outcome of Game 5 in Nashville. (Photo by Getty Images) |
How decisive will the first goal be in tonight’s Game 5 of the Western Conference quarterfinal series at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena?
Considering that the winning team in the first four games of the series jumped ahead on the scoreboard, striking first tonight will be paramount, especially since 62.5 percent of the teams to score first in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs have won.
“The first goal seems to be critical,” forward Danny Cleary
said. “They play tight; they block a lot of shots. They got a good goalie in net. Tonight, our focus needs to be on a good cycle game, a good game around the net and try to get second, third, fourth chances.”
In the 32 playoffs games that have been played through Thursday, 20 were claimed by teams that scored first, including in every game of the Wings-Predators and St. Louis-San Jose series. In contrast, the team to score first has lost each game of the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh series.
“We all know we need to score to win,” Clear said. “We're trying, just got to find a way to get a couple of dirty ones tonight.”
The Wings won more than 76 percent of the time (32-9-3) when they scored first in the regular-season. But now that they’re up against an elimination game getting the Predators out of their comfort zone will be very important if the Wings hope to bring the series back to Detroit for a Game 6 on Sunday.
“I think we get out and get started on time ourselves and get after them,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “There could be no more desperate team than us, so let's get started on time, let's win some face-offs, let's get a forecheck going. Territorial play hasn't been an issue for us in this series at all, with the exception of the third period in Game 2, so we got to keep doing what we've been doing in that area.”
It was in Game 2 that the Wings played with a lead after first-period goals by Ian White
and Cory Emmerton
forced Nashville to play from for the only time in a series that hasn’t had any lead changes.
The lack of scoring is a concern for the Wings who have managed to score more than two goals just once, which occurred in a Game 2 win last Friday. Detroit has scored as many goals on the power play (four) as it has at even-strength. Only Henrik Zetterberg
has scored more than once, with both tallies coming on the power play.
Their eight goals in the series is the lowest goal-total since they scored seven goals through the four games of a six-game series against San Jose in the 2007 conference semifinals.
A key for the Wings in Game 5 is to continue creating traffic in front of Pekka Rinne, who until this point has been the series MVP, stopping 130 shots with a .942 save percentage.
“How are we going to score some goals? We can't just be impatient, we got to be patient,” Babcock said. “I don't think we got impatient the last game at all. … I thought we stuck with it. We need some second chances on their goaltender. Puck's not coming off him very much because he catches a lot of things, so we got to figure out a way to get some second chances and be determined and understand that it's going to tight-checking and there's not going to be a lot of room.
“They're confident in their goaltender. They don't mind giving you the chance and they're all going to cycle the net, so we go to fight for seconds.”
Something the Wings can forget is trying to score on Rinne’s glove side as the 6-foot-5 Finnish netminder has scooped every shot that he’s seen on his left side.
“We all know we need to score to win,” Cleary said. “We're trying, just got to find a way to get a couple of dirty ones tonight. They're a really good defensive team, they're disciplined, this is not a rush chance opportunity series. There's no two-on-ones, hardly any three-on-twos, they always got guys back, they're blocking everything, they got like a wall built in front, so we need to come in from the sides.
“Right now, offensively, we're a little stymied for sure.”Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose