Early power play goal eliminates one set of questions for Predators

Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 10:42pm

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Questions about the Nashville Predators’ ability to win a postseason series, which they have faced for years now, undoubtedly will linger until they actually win one.

One thing they won’t have to answer to this year — at least not for now — is their inability to score on the power play during the postseason.

It took just a little more than a minute into their first power play of their Western Conference quarterfinal series with Anaheim for them to convert. Shea Weber got the game’s first goal — and sent Nashville on its way to a 4-1 victory — 62 seconds after Matt Beleskey was called for a cross-check.

“Just scoring right off the bat — you’re going to need both sides of the special teams to be good,” coach Barry Trotz said. “… I just thought about the first goal, getting a good start.

“A key power play goal at a key time can really lift you, and [Wednesday] night it got us the first one.”

Last season against Chicago, the power play was a miserable 1-for-27. The lone goal (Jason Arnott scored it) came in the final game of the series and left Nashville three short of Chicago’s total.

“It’s going to be big,” Weber said. “Obviously, special teams are going to be huge in the playoffs. The ability to kill off penalties and to score big goals on the power play is going to go a long ways.”

The goal was Weber’s second power-play goal in postseason play, which tied him with Arnott and Paul Kariya for the franchise’s all-time lead.

In 29 all-time playoff games, Nashville now has 13 goals with the man-advantage. Only once in its first five playoff series (2007) has it converted more often than the opposition.

“Our power play hasn’t been [consistently] good all year, but we have produced timely goals,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “We have been pretty good the second half here, since the All-Star break.

“Just so you’re not thinking about it, it’s probably a good thing to get one that early.”

They’re also not having to answer questions about it.

New challenge: Mike Fisher, who had two goals and an assist in the series opener, entered this postseason with 75 games of playoff experience — all in the Eastern Conference as a member of the Ottawa Senators.

His 26 games for Nashville after being acquired in a trade taught him that this year would be a little different.

“Offensively, I find with a lot of teams in the West the [defensemen] are pretty mobile and like to jump and join the rush,” he said. “They’re really active in the offensive zone.”

He also expects the games and series to be even more competitive than he faced in the East.

“The West, I think is a little stronger top to bottom,” he said. “You just look at the race for the playoffs and in general, every game has been so important for so many teams. So that’s created some really good hockey.”

Watching, learning: Second-year forward Colin Wilson was one of three players who appeared in all 82 regular-season games for the Predators (Weber and Jerred Smithson were the others).

He was scratched from the playoff opener, though, and there was no indication the next day that he would be back in the lineup anytime soon.

“He didn’t do anything wrong. He just didn’t do enough things right,” Trotz said. “It’s a privilege to play in the playoffs. It’s a privilege to play in the National Hockey League. It’s a privilege to have one of the 12 spots as a forward on a hockey team.

“He’ll start to understand that it is a privilege to play and there’s a certain level you have to play at. … He’s still a young guy.”

Briefly: Weber’s goal gave him 13 career playoff points (six goals, seven assists), which tied him with David Legwand and Martin Erat for the all-time franchise lead. Weber has played 22 postseason contests, fewer than either Erat (27) or Legwand (26). … Weber’s six playoff goals also are one more than all other Nashville defensemen — all-time — combined. Suter has two, Dan Hamhuis, Kimmo Timonen and Greg de Vries all had one. … Goalie Pekka Rinne is now 3-4 in postseason contests, which ties him with Tomas Vokoun (3-8) for most all-time playoff wins by a Predators goalie. … Nashville has scored four goals in four of its last seven postseason contests. It had more than three five times in the previous 22.