A lifeguard instructor once said that trying to save a drowning person was more dangerous than walking into a cage with a wild tiger.
The Detroit Red Wings discovered Monday night that the Nashville Predators, who appeared to be watching their playoff hopes go down with a third loss, were as dangerous and relentless as any drowning person. The Predators, as has been the case all season, refused to give up and game away with a 5-3 win in game three of the Western Conference quarterfinals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Red Wings, leading 2-1 in the series, and the Predators are back in the Sommet Center Wednesday night. The face-off is at 8.
“I don’t know what it is, but we never take the easy road,” said Predators goaltender Dan Ellis. “We are a better team when our backs are against the wall. This time we used that wall to push back.”
As has been the case the entire season, nothing has been easy for the Predators, not even a win. They spotted the Red Wings a 2-0 lead before coming back to tie the game at 2-2 on second-period goals by right wing Alexander Radulov and center David Legwand.
Then 40 seconds into the third period the Predators trailed 3-2 as Pavel Datsyuk scored.
But with a positive outcome for the Predators looking bleak, defenseman Ryan Suter scored at 16:03 and center Jason Arnott found the net nine seconds later to give the Predators a 4-3 lead. With 21 seconds left, right wing Martin Erat iced the game with an empty-net goal.
“This team has been on the brink so many times,” said Predators coach Barry Trotz. “A lot of people have doubted us. But this team finds a way to get it done.
“When we got down 3-2 and got scored on the first shift, I thought, ‘How many times can you get kicked?’ But our guys kept on picking their backs off of the floor. There was great energy in the building. The fans believed we could still do it. And we stayed strong on the bench.”
The Predators had scored only three goals in the first two games. One of the concerns had been a lack of offensive production from top scorers Arnott and right wing J.P. Dumont. Arnott scored what proved to be the game-winning goal and Dumont earned an assist. Left wing Jan Hlavac and defenseman Marek Zidlicky were both credited with two assists. Radulov and Suter both had multi-point nights as each added an assist.
“The first two games there was a lot of talk about our leadership and our top scorers not scoring,” Trotz said. “But that’s when you need everyone to chip in. And that’s what we had in this game.
“Guys like Suter chipped in. J.P had a strong game. Hlavac made some great plays. Our top guys really showed up for us. And it’s not that they didn’t show up in Detroit. Detroit did a good job of containing them. This is going to be about everybody contributing the rest of the way from the first line to the fourth line.”
Trotz did a great deal of mixing and matching of his lines, a luxury he had because of the return of Legwand, who played for the first time since March 7, a string of 14 missed games.
“He’s such a good player,” said Suter. “He’s got speed and he can score. Usually when you take only a couple of weeks off you don’t know how fast a player is going to come back. He was out longer than that and he came back fast. That’s good for him and good for us.”
Legwand had missed an optional skate on Sunday and did not return to the ice until pre-game warm-ups Monday night.
“I told them I was ready after warm-ups and they decided to let me give it a go,” Legwand said. “I had missed almost five-and-half weeks, but I got more comfortable as the game went along. When I was working out I was trying to be as close as game ready as possible.
“It was a boost being at home. With the crowd behind us it was exciting. It has been a tough series so far. We have a tough way to go to get it back even.”