ANAHEIM — It is an analogy Barry Trotz uses often.
He says a player’s quest to get back up to speed upon return from an injury is like “trying to catch a moving train.”
If that’s accurate, then no one expected Steve Sullivan to be Superman, the superhero who actually is faster than a speeding locomotive. That burden fell to Pekka Rinne in the Nashville Predators’ 2011 playoff opener Wednesday at Honda Center.
Sullivan proved he was up to speed, however, after having missed 20 of the final 21 games of the regular season. The veteran forward got behind the Anaheim defense and scored the first of two Nashville goals in the final five minutes of the second period, an offensive burst that sent the Predators on their way to a 4-1 victory before a disappointed sellout crowd of 17,174.
“You always hope for a little lightning in a bottle,” coach Barry Trotz said. “[Sullivan] has some experience [and] we have a young dressing room.
“It was a goal-scorer’s goal. He got a little bit of a step and went to the net. … It was a huge goal.”
Sullivan was slotted on the fourth line and played just limited minutes (6:15) as he got the nod over J-P Dumont and Colin Wilson, both of whom were scratched.
When he was on the ice, though, he flashed his familiar speed. The goal was his first in the postseason since 2004.
“It’s been a long time,” Sullivan said. “I’m glad of the timing of it — we were playing very well and weren’t getting rewarded. To get it to 2-0, just to create a little separation between us and them on the scoreboard, give the boys a little boost to the bench and let us know that our hard work was going to be rewarded.
• Full house: Counting the regular season, Nashville and Anaheim have met five times in 2010-11, yet they have produced just two different final scores.
This was the third 4-1 count (all Predators’ victories), while the other two were 5-4 contest (one victory apiece).
“We seem to play pretty strong defensively against these guys,” goalie Pekka Rinne said. “We know they have a lot of great players, dangerous players with a lot of skill and physical presence. We just seem to play good against these guys.”
• Rough stuff: The Ducks racked up 40 penalty minutes in the third period — the most ever by a Predators’ opponent in a playoff game. They did so on the strength of three 10-minute misconducts, one of which was assessed after the final whistle.
The previous mark was 35 by San Jose in 2007.
“It’s about standing your ground and … fighting through some of that hard stuff that happens,” Trotz said. “You know it’s coming. Sometimes toughness is not about pushing back.”
Nashville had just 14 penalty minutes, 10 in the third period.
• Early exit: Anaheim goalie Dan Ellis was pulled less than a minute into the third period after he allowed his fourth goal — on just 24 shots.
“I didn’t think he played a bad game,” Rinne said. “We scored some quality goals on some really good shots. Mike Fisher had a great shot, and Shea Weber had a big goal for us. I think it was just a wake-up call for them when they pulled [Ellis].”
• Hump day: Last season’s six-game playoff series with Chicago included games played on six different days of the week. The only day they didn’t play was Wednesday.
Two of the first four games of this series will be on Wednesday.
Nashville is now 2-3 in all-time playoff games on Wednesdays.
• Dress code: The Predators have dubbed Friday Preds Playoff Pride Day. They have asked everyone to wear team merchandise and to show support for the team any way possible that day.
“Now is the time to take the ‘Seventh Man’ out of the Arena and set him free in the office, at school and all across Middle Tennessee,” Predators President Sean Henry said.