Contributions from a long-time Predator and a long-lost one went a long way toward producing a long-awaited victory.
David Legwand, the franchise’s first draft pick, and Alexander Radulov, who until recently turned his back on the team, each had a goal and an assist Friday as the Nashville Predators ended their Western Conference quarterfinal series with the Detroit Red Wings in five games.
Any question about whether or not the Predators finally had surpassed their more established and accomplished division rivals were answered with a 2-1 victory before a sellout crowd at Bridgestone Arena.
“They’re one of the top organizations in the league, obviously,” Legwand said. “They’ve had success for the last 25 years and growing, their core group is still there and they’re going to be there for a while.
“They’re a strong hockey team … and we took the series [Friday]. I think this might have been our best game.”
The steps had been incremental from the earliest days of the Nashville franchise, which kicked off the NHL’s latest wave of expansion back in 1998-99. First it was enough just to be competitive with the Red Wings. Then there were some victories — first at home and then increasingly on the road.
Even the pass was not decisive, though. The teams split their regular season series with three victories apiece. The Predators carved out a bit of personal history for themselves, though, by virtue of the fact that they finished two points ahead of Detroit in the final conference standings — a fact that earned them home-ice advantage for this series.
Now there is no doubt. The Predators will continue in this postseason. The Red Wings — with all of their highly touted talent go home.
“When you lose 4-1 in a series … to me, that’s not close,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “… We had this team under a ton of pressure, I thought, in our first three losses and we did a lot of good things. I just thought we didn’t have enough depth [at forward]. Flat out — we weren’t good enough.”
Legwand, a native of the Detroit area who historically has played well against the preferred team of his youth, made the two biggest plays.
He was in the right spot when defenseman Kyle Quincey committed a turnover late in the first period and promptly fed the puck out in front to Radulov, who buried the chance for his first goal of the playoffs. Legwand then found the perfect spot with a wrist shot 13 seconds into the final period that ended up as the game-winning goal.
“I thought Leggy was outstanding, him and Rads and that line with [Gabriel Bourque],” coach Barry Trotz said. “… [They] were dangerous all night.”
As was the case in every other game in this series, the team that scored first finished on top. But it was not easy.
Detroit dominated the latter stages of the second period and tied it 1-1 on Jiri Hurdler’s goal with 6:15 to go before the second intermission. Much more exacting on offense than in recent games, the Red Wings had just 14 shots through two periods but were even on the scoreboard and had all the momentum.
Then came Legwand’s goal. After that, all that was needed was for the time to run out, which it did with some extended periods of action and — for the only time in the series — no penalties.
“We got the first goal and couldn’t get the second,” Trotz said. “We had tons of chances – we had posts, we had good lucks and all those things. We just couldn’t get it done and then they scored.
“The great thing about that is in the past, with a few different teams we’ve had in the past when they were starting to come and it was 1-1 there might have been … not a lot of confidence. [Friday] there was tons of confidence.”
The celebration was delayed slightly when, after an icing with 3.9 seconds to play, Detroit called timeout. The Red Wings nearly got a scoring chance off the ensuing faceoff that too passed, and the bench emptied toward that end of the ice to congratulate goalie Pekka Rinne, who made 151 saves and allowed just nine goals against one of the game’s best offensive teams.
“Everybody was kind of feeling that this is how it’s supposed to be,” Rinne said. “Not being cocky or anything, but just the confidence level inside this room you could tell right away after the game — it wasn’t like it’s a big party time.”
It was a long time coming, though.