Steve Sullivan is not simply in the playoffs for the first time in four seasons. The Nashville Predators’ forward is into the playoffs.
Sullivan’s passion through the first three games of the Western Conference quarterfinal series with the Chicago Blackhawks (Nashville leads 2-1) has been apparent in a variety of ways.
Perhaps most telling was when cameras caught him face-to-face with Blackhawks’ forward Tomas Kopecky following a whistle in Game 2. The moment, replayed during the local broadcast, showed Sullivan wide-eyed with his mouth in high gear. Amateur lip readers did not detect any vulgarity — or any other obvious words for that matter.
“I haven’t seen it,” Sullivan said. “Yes, I’ve heard somewhat of it.”
His explanation for the seemingly maniacal outburst?
“In the moment,” he said.
It’s been a long time since the 35-year-old had any moments such as that, or any of the others that he’s enjoyed since the series began Friday.
He was not available for Nashville’s last two postseason appearances because of the back injury that sidelined him for 23 months and nearly ended his career. In 2006, he missed the last nine games of the regular season with a groin strain. He returned to the lineup and played all five games in a first-round loss San Jose but did not score a goal after having shared the team lead with 31 during the regular season.
The last time he was relatively healthy and playing at this time of year was 2004, the first time Nashville reached the playoffs.
“Stevie hasn’t been too healthy in the playoffs for a while,” coach Barry Trotz said. To see him in the playoffs and skating and playing the way he’s been is good. I think he’s happy about that because he’s got a good story.
“His career was on the edge at one time, and now he’s healthy and playing like a young guy again.”
Sullivan had two assists the Predators’ 4-1 victory on Tuesday, which equaled his offensive output in the five games against the Sharks in 2006.
It also was his 14th postseason appearance with Nashville, which was one more than he had played for any other team. He was a part of 13 playoff games with Toronto in 1999, the only time in his career he played beyond the opening round.
“This is what you play for,” Sullivan said. “This is why you play 82 games of the regular season. Even though I do look young, I’m starting to get up there in age. I don’t know how many more cracks at it we’re going to have before the end.
“... It’s totally different for me right now.”
He certainly showed a different side of himself to Kopecky.
• Patric Hornqvist remains a question mark after having missed the last two games (as well as the final contest of the regular season) with an unspecified upper body injury.
“Patric will be probably a game-time decision [for Game 4 on Thursday], as it has been,” Trotz said. “His status hasn’t really changed.”
• With five points (one goal, four assists) through three games, David Legwand already has the third-highest playoff point total in franchise history.
Paul Kariya had seven (two goals, five assists) in 2006 and J.P. Dumont had six (four goals, two assists) in 2007.
• Nashville’s players and coaches stressed that their goal is not to get too excited about having a 2-1 series lead for the first time in team history.
“We’re trying to stay even-keeled,” defenseman Shea Weber said. “We know that [Chicago] is capable of doing good things, especially with what happened after Game 1.”
The Blackhawks answered the Predators’ 4-1 victory in the opener with a 2-0 triumph that evened the series after two games.
• Joel Ward become the 24th different player to score a playoff goal for Nashville when he made it 1-0 seven minutes into Game 3.