Predators Gameday: In search of the first first-period goal

Tuesday, May 3, 2011 at 1:09pm

The Nashville Predators’ primary goal for Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinal series with the Vancouver Canucks (8 p.m., Tuesday) is to give their fans at Bridgestone Arena a reason to cheer.

The sooner the better too.

In six meetings between the Predators and Canucks (four in the regular season two in the playoffs), neither side has scored a first-period goal.

“Obviously, their goal is to try to get an early start and that’s where our focus is tonight — to get on top of things,” right wing Joel Ward said. “ … Hopefully we can break that little cycle and try to get the crowd behind us as best we can.”

The Canucks made a habit of fast starts in their conference quarterfinal series with Chicago. Seven of their 16 goals in those seven games came in the opening 20 minutes. They had just four each in the second and third with one in overtime.

During the regular season, they were 10th in the league with 70 first-period goals, but scored more with each successive period.

“We don’t want to play a run-and-gun game with them; we don’t want to exchange chances,” Nashville left wing Steve Sullivan said. “We want to play our game, which is just solid defensively, try to minimize their scoring chances, be patient and wait for ours. So I don’t think the first goal is that important.”

Nashville had 73 first-period goals during the regular season. Just six of 24 goals during the postseason have come during the opening 20 minutes, though. Only San Jose and Washington, among the remaining eight teams, have fewer.

“Whoever scores the first goal, it’s always a big meaning in the game,” Predators goalie Pekka Rinne said. “We’ll see how it goes. I’m sure we respect this opportunity to play at home at this point of the season. I’m sure we’ll come out flying and work hard.

“Hopefully we can get that first goal.”

Mr. Popularity: Chances are, given the size of the Vancouver media corps, that many Predators have answered more questions in the last week than they typically do in an entire month.

Arguably none has drawn more attention than defenseman Shane O’Brien, whose off-ice habits were a popular subject for those media outlets during his two seasons with the Canucks.

If he holds any resentment or bitterness, O’Brien has not shown it. Instead, he happily has answered any and all inquiries.

“Nashville is a different animal than the Vancouver media,” O’Brien said. “It’s a little easier to fly under the radar here in Nashville. Obviously, I’ve made some changes to the way I live my life and some of the decisions I make off the ice. You couldn’t get away from very much in Vancouver. Everywhere you went, they had a pretty good eye on you.

“In Nashville, it’s a little quieter. The fans still recognize you but it’s not quite such a bubble. It’s been great for me. It’s been a fun year. I’ve matured a lot.”

Mr. Good Looking: Coach Barry Trotz revealed that on game days he typically takes a long walk to help him relax and prepare.

On one such walk in Vancouver last week, two young men seated on a park bench recognized him.

“They go, ‘Excuse me, you look like the coach for the Predators,’” Trotz said. “I said, ‘No. That’s insulting. I think he’s ugly.’ And I walked away.”

Quote of note: “I think this series changes tonight. It was a feeling-out process in Vancouver. … It’s on right now.” — Trotz, on what he expects in Game 3.

By the numbers: 0 — points by Mike Fisher in the last three games. He had six points (three goals, three assists) in the first five postseason contests.

• 2 — multi-point games by Ryan Suter during the playoffs. He had just seven multi-point games during the regular season.

• 3 — shots by Matt Halischuk in the eight playoff games. He has two goals, including the overtime winner Saturday in Game 2.

• 5 — games since the Canucks’ last power-play goal. They have had 15 opportunities since they last scored with the man-advantage.

• 17,113 — the size of the sellout crowd for the game, which will be the smallest to see Vancouver this postseason. The Canucks have sold out six home games with a crowd of 18,860 each time, and played in front of more than 21,000 in each of their three contests at Chicago.