Preds must find cure for third-period blues

Sunday, March 28, 2010 at 10:21pm
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Pekka Rinne, who has been masterful of late, gave up two third-period goals to the Coyotes last week. / Mike Strasinger for The City Paper

The Nashville Predators understood that they missed an opportunity Saturday to take an early lead against the Detroit Red Wings — and it cost them.

Unable to score despite a 7-0 advantage in shots during the first seven-plus minutes, the Predators eventually were forced to overtime and then to a shootout. Their eventual 1-0 defeat allowed Detroit to close to within one point in the Western Conference standings.

“That was a back-to-back game for them, and we jumped on them right away,” forward J.P. Dumont said. “We had great chances but didn’t score.”

A more common problem in recent weeks has been an inability to hold a lead once they get it. Of the 26 goals Nashville has allowed in its last 12 games, 17 have come in the third period.

It is an unsettling trend given that four of their remaining six games are against teams that are among the top 16 in the NHL in third-period scoring. The first of those is Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Florida, which is 16th in third-period goals.

“That’s an area, I think, we have to get a lot better in,” center Marcel Goc said. “Starting after the break we’ve had [leads] and we’ve given them up either during the middle of the game or late.

“I think if we can manage to play a little better, stronger and push when teams are down and we are up, then I think we’re going to make it easier on ourselves.”

The most noteworthy meltdown in that stretch occurred March 11 at San Jose, when the Predators led 4-2 after two periods but surrendered six in the third — a franchise record for goals allowed in a period — and lost 8-5. Four days earlier, a 2-1 lead on Vancouver after 40 minutes turned into a 4-2 defeat.

More recently, Nashville allowed Phoenix to rally from two down in the final five minutes of regulation last Thursday before it won in a shootout. A similar thing happened the week before when Philadelphia rallied from two down in the final 10 minutes of the third period before the Predators won in a shootout.

“We need to work a little harder in the end of third, and make sure we’re stopping pucks and getting pucks out and all those things,” forward Patric Hornqvist said.

Since the midway point of the season, the third period has been Nashville’s worst in terms of offensive production, although not by much. It has scored 28 times in the final 20 minutes of regulation as opposed to 29 in the first and 32 in the second.

What’s telling is that over that same period, the Predators are plus-5 in first-period goals and plus-6 in second-period scoring. In the third, they’re minus-11.

In 15 games since the Olympic break, they have outscored the opposition in the third period just four times. Even so, they have won 10 of those 15 games and lost one in overtime for 31 out of a possible 40 points.

“To me, the thing is, when you’re up 3-1 and they get it to 3-3, you still find a way to win,” coach Barry Trotz said. “… That’s what I’m focusing on. … and that’s real important.”