The Nashville Predators dominated the first two periods of game three in their series against Anaheim and only had a 2-2 tie to show for it. The team dug in and showed their “resiliency” in taking a 4-3 victory on the strength of Mike Fisher’s game winning goal halfway through the final period.
The ending of the game had a close resemblance to the Predators’ game five loss in Chicago last season with the Preds ahead 4-3 and the Ducks coning off a penalty to go six on five with 20 seconds left.
Barry Trotz jokingly addressed the subject, “Maybe we exorcised a few ghosts out there. I know everybody was thinking that, I know you guys were. Are you kidding me? You guys were all ready to write the story.”
“As I said to the guys, you’re always getting tested a lot of different ways, so it might have been the best thing to happen. We came out and had to battle until the end, and that seems to be the Predator way.”
The Predators other goals came from Marty Erat, Jordin Tootoo, and David Legwand while the Ducks offense came in the form of back to back goals by Teemu Selanne and a single goal by Matt Beleskey.
Pekka Rinne gave up three goals on 16 shots to get the win but all three goals were basically unstoppable. Ray Emery looked much better in net than in game two in spite of giving up four goals on 37 shots in taking the loss.
The game started with plenty of enthusiasm by both teams, and yes, there was a catfish on the ice. Things were chippy from the start with Shane O’Brien knocking down Jason Blake on a clean hit three minutes in. Jerred Smithson was called for tripping Brad Winchester at 3:31 but the Preds penalty kill held the Ducks shot-less.
The Ducks did not get their first shot until a floater from center ice at 10:27 by Francois Beauchemin. The Preds had five by that point.
The Predators got their first opportunity on the power play at 13:08 when Matt Halischuk drew a roughing call from Luca Sbisa. At 15:00 Erat picked up a goal when Lubomir Visnovsky failed to clear a shot from Cody Franson and the Preds took a 1-0 lead.
Thirty-eight seconds later 38 seconds later, the Ducks were sloppy clearing the puck again and Jerred Smithson got the puck to Tootoo in front of the net and he took a couple of point blank shots with the second going in to make it 2-0 Predators.
The Predators domination of the first period was indicated in the Preds outshooting the Ducks 12-4 and leading the Corsi 24-12. The Ducks only had one or two quality scoring chances. The Preds also won 11 of 16 faceoffs and led the hit count 20-11.
Any adjustments that the Ducks made between periods were delayed when 22 seconds in to the second period Ryan Getzlaf slashed Joel Ward and was sent to the box. The Preds had three shots and a couple of scoring chances but did not convert.
The Predators pressure in front of Emery continued and resulted in another Duck penalty at 8:19 when Saku Koivu caught Patric Hornqvist with a high stick. The Preds got a shot but did not look crisp on the man advantage.
The Predators quickly got another shot at a power play at 10:42 when Todd Marchant took Tootoo into the boards and received a two minute sit down. The Predators got four shots and kept plenty of pressure on Emery but did not score.
After an extended stay in the offensive zone, the sold out Bridgestone Arena crowd of 17,113 exploded into as frenzied TV time out standing ovation as this barn has ever seen at 15:16. The Preds were leading 25-5 in shots, having only one in the middle stanza.
At 16:55 after a verbal exchange for the length of the ice, Mike Fisher and Getzlaf dropped the gloves and went toe to toe in a decent fight for a couple of top forwards not known for fighting.
At 17:29, Shane O’Brien was called for elbowing George Parros and another multi-player scuffle ensued. The Ducks scored at 18:10 when Ryan Suter failed to clear the puck from the defensive zone and Corey Perry sent the puck to Selanne who put the puck past Rinne to pull the Ducks within one at 2-1.
On the next shift, thirty seconds later, a shot by Perry went wide of the net on the right and bounced oddly to the left side of the net where a waiting Selanne had a shot at the empty side of the net to tie the game 2-2.
The period ended with another round of flamed tempers after a couple of no-calls on the Ducks and O’Brien and Marchant were sent to the box for offsetting roughing penalties which made little sense as they never squared off with each other.
In spite of the two quick goals at the end of the period, the Predators continued to dominate the stat sheet outshooting the Ducks 15-6 and leading the Corsi 25-15.
At 5:25 in the third period, the Duck were too concerned about knocking Joel Ward to the ice, and allowed a cross crease pass from Suter to a waiting Legwand who buried the puck from Emery’s left side to put the Preds back ahead 3-2.
It was a short lead as Koivu fired a shot at 6:48 that went off of Belesky’s skate and then Cody Franson’s skate blade to slip past Rinne to re-tie the game at 3-3.
The Predators came right back at with the game winning goal by Fisher who was rushing the net from the right and took a cross ice pass from Sergei Kostitsyn and slipped it past Emery’s off side to give the Preds a 4-3 lead.
With 2:20 remaining and both teams skating hard in each direction Koivu hooked Blum and the stage was set for a final 20 second push by the Ducks.
Trotz commented, “They pulled their goalie with twenty seconds left and Shea got his stick sawed in half by Selanne on the forecheck chopping there, so all of a sudden you are six on four. We did a really good job and got through that.”
For the final period, The Preds outshot the Ducks 10-6 and led the Corsi 21-15.
The Predators did a much better job of protecting Rinne than in the first two games. He explained, “They didn’t have too many rebound chances.. We did a good job of taking care of the rebound area in front of the net.”
In spite of the better protection Rinne still got knocked down a couple of times, “(Getting knocked down) is a part of the game, this time of year. You try to do anything you can to make it difficult. That’s what they’ve been trying to do and it doesn’t matter, it’s playoff time.”
Rinne said the team was confident when the Ducks made a comeback, “It always takes a little bit of life out of you but we have a lot of character here and that was a real test for us. We’d been having a lot of scoring chances and just couldn’t get the third one then ‘boom’ they had a 2-2 game. A lot of times that can kill a team and you hang your head and stuff like that but we showed a lot of character right there.”
Fisher was named the first star of the game for his goal and all round gritty play. He explained what Trotz said after the second period, “Just relax and don’t get too frustrated. We were tied and had to go out and play the way we had been playing. After that,we knew we would be fine. He was just trying to get us back to focusing on that.”
Trotz commented on four being the number of goals needed in this series, “Our magic number for the last eleven years has been three but four is a good number. I’ve got four kids so four is a plays a big part in my life. If it’s four, it’s four.”
The Predators and Ducks both have practices scheduled at Centennial Sportsplex on Monday and Tuesday before their rematch in game four on Wednesday at the Bridgestone Arena in a special 7:30 p.m. start time.