Third-period scoring bursts work well for Predators against Blackhawks

As a formula for playoff success, there’s no doubt that it’s effective.

However, it does not seem like the kind of thing on which a team can count. Except that the Nashville Predators have done it in the last two home games of their Western Conference quarterfinal series with the Chicago Blackhawks. Not coincidentally, those are the only two games they have won in the series, which Chicago still leads 3-2.

The idea is simple enough. Score three third-period goals and do so as quickly as possible.

In Thursday’s Game 5, all it took was 2:27 to turn a 1-1 nail-biter into a 4-1 joy ride to the finish.

That was the second-fastest collection of three goals in Predators playoff history. The fastest, of course, were the three in the third period of last Friday’s Game 2, all of which went in within a span of 2:19.

“It’s good feeling,” left wing Colin Wilson said. “It’s a fun feeling. It’s fun to get the crowd into it. It gets everybody going, the bench and the players. So to get goals in bunches like that it’s definitely a fun way of doing it.”

The first time they did it, the Predators evened the series with a 6-2 rout after a heartbreaking double overtime defeat in the series opener.

This time they avoided elimination with a 5-2 triumph. The surge started 47 seconds into the third when James Neal scored his second goal in as many games. Wilson followed with a power play goal at 3:02 and Filip Forsberg capped the offensive outburst 12 seconds later with the second of his three goals on the night.

“It was good to get the first one early in the period,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “… Again, just bang-bang right right away. I don’t think that was indication of the game. It was another fast-paced game. We were able just to capture a little bit of offense there in a short period of time.”

That latest triple play came against Chicago netminder Scott Darling, who has been an unlikely hero for his team through the first part of the series.

The first came against the Blackhawks’ other goalie, Corey Crawford, who hasn’t played since Game 2. In that one, Forsberg scored to make it 4-2 at 12:41 of the third. Then came goals by Mike Santorelli (14:28) and Craig Smith (15:00) to put the game out of reach.

“I’m not blaming the goalie,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said Thursday. “… It’s not the goalie at all.”

There’s no guarantee that the Predators can do it again, or whether they can even do it on the road. But now both Blackhawks goalies know it’s possible.

“Everyone’s professional. Everyone can put things behind them and I’m sure that’s what (Darling) is going to try to do,” defenseman Seth Jones said. “It’s our job to put more pressure on him in Game 6, put more pucks to the net, put more bodies in front of him make it hard for him.

“… Like you saw, Game 2 we blew them out then we ended up losing two in a row. So you can’t get too high. We can’t get too ahead of ourselves.”

(Photo: Getty Images)
 

Apr 24, 2015 12:34 AM

Start time set for next game of Predators-Blackhawks series

Maybe the NHL sensed what was coming.

The league announced the start time for Saturday’s Game 6 between the Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday – before anyone knew for certain there would be a Game 6.

Nashville eventually forced that contest – and avoided elimination in the Western Conference quarterfinals – with a 5-2 victory Thursday before a sellout crowd at Bridgestone Arena.

Faceoff will be at 7 p.m. (CDT) Saturday when the series returns to Chicago. The game will be televised nationally by NBC.

“It’s a tough building to play in, for sure,” defenseman Seth Jones said of the United Center. “… I think some people get intimidated by it, but I think we can use it to our advantage and see where that takes us.”

If the Predators win it will bring them right back home for Game 7 (the first in franchise history), Monday at Bridgestone Arena. The start time for that one has not been determined.

“Our back is still up against the wall,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “I think we’re still a team that needs to realize where we’re at and our place in life right now. If we win we can come back and play a Game 7 and if we don’t, we start the summer.

“I don’t think our guys are ready to go home. They’ve never been without confidence. … They’ve never backed down from a challenge and they’ve answered the bell.”
 

Apr 24, 2015 12:02 AM

Forsberg fails to land spot among Calder Trophy finalists

Back in November and December no one was anywhere near Filip Forsberg in the race for the Calder Trophy.

Thursday, when the three finalists were announced, the Nashville Predators left wing’s name was nowhere to be seen.

Forsberg’s 26 goals were tied for second among rookies and his 63 points were one behind co-leaders Johnny Gaudreau of Calgary and Mark Stone of Ottawa, yet he was not among the top three in a vote by select members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. Those three were Gaudreau, Stone and Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad, the first overall selection in the 2014 NHL draft.

Forsberg was second with 19 power play goals (six more than Stone) and a plus-15 rating (six better than Gaudreau). His six game-winning goals tied Stone and one other for the rookie lead and his total ice time was second only to Ekblad.

None of it, though, added up in the minds of the voters, whose ballots ranked the top five rookies. Each spot had a corresponding point value and the top three were named finalists.

A look at the Calder Trophy finalists, per the official NHL release:

• Ekblad, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2014 NHL Draft, set club records for goals (12), assists (27) and points (39) by a rookie defenseman. His 39 points were two shy of the NHL record for an 18-year-old defenseman (at the start of the season), set by Bobby Orr in 1966-67 (13-28—41). Ekblad led the Panthers in plus-minus (+12) and was on the ice for 88 Florida goals scored, the most of any player on the roster. The Windsor, Ont., native is aiming to become the second Panthers player to capture the Calder in three years, following Jonathan Huberdeau 's win in 2013.

• A fourth-round selection (104th overall) by the Flames in the 2011 NHL Draft, Gaudreau recorded 24-40—64 to finish in a tie in points with Stone atop the rookie scoring list. He ranked first among all rookies in assists (40) and power-play goals (eight), and topped rookie forwards in average ice time per game (17:43). The 21-year-old Salem, N.J., native recorded his first career hat trick on Dec. 22, becoming the youngest Flames player to do so since Dec. 28, 1987 ( Joe Nieuwendyk ). Gaudreau is vying to become the first Flames player to earn Calder Trophy honors since Sergei Makarov in 1990.

• Stone, a sixth-round selection (178th overall) by Ottawa in 2010, recorded 26-38—64 to finish first in the rookie scoring race. That featured 14-21—35 dating to Feb. 10 (31 GP), including a rookie club record nine-game point streak to end the season (8-5—13). Stone capped his performance with two goals in the season finale to help the team complete its successful playoff drive. He also led all rookies in plus-minus (+21) and shared first in the League in takeaways (98). The 22-year-old Winnipeg native would become the second player in franchise history to win the Calder, joining Daniel Alfredsson in 1996.

(Photo: Getty Images)
 

Apr 23, 2015 7:50 PM

Hal Gill calls it a career after stops with six teams, including Predators

Hal Gill hasn’t been seen in an NHL lineup in nearly a year.

Still, it would be tough for a 6-foot-7, 243-pound defenseman to slip away unnoticed.

The 40-year-old, who was not on a team this season, formally announced his retirement Thursday afternoon with a statement released through the NHL Players Association. With that he ended a 16-year career comprised of 1,108 regular season games (111 more in the playoffs) with six different franchises, including the Nashville Predators.

“I am so thankful to have played for such great organizations. I was lucky to have made amazing friendships throughout my career and live in so many beautiful cities. I would like to thank the fans for their support, the coaches for their direction, the team staffs for their efforts, and most of all, my teammates for their camaraderie (and keeping me in line),” Hal Gill said in his statement. “Thank you, as well, to Global Hockey Consultants for their commitment to building my career, and to my family for staying strong through the lows and steady through the highs. I’m very excited for the next chapter of my life.”

The Predators acquired Gill prior to the 2012 trade deadline and he appeared in 55 games for Nashville over parts of two seasons. He then signed with Philadelphia and played just six games in 2013-14. His last appearance was with the Flyers in a first-round playoff game.

He broke in with Boston in 1997-98 and also played for Toronto (2006-08), Pittsburgh (2008-09) and Montreal (2009-12).

His size made him an imposing figure on the ice and a defensive stalwart wherever he went. He never had more than 22 points in a season but always had more to do with an opponents’ inability to score, particularly as a penalty killer.

(Photo: Getty Images)
 

Apr 23, 2015 2:57 PM

Predators aim to — finally — stave off elimination at home

It should be their happy place.

And many times Bridgestone Arena is exactly that for the Nashville Predators. An adoring crowd, familiar surroundings a record of success make their home ice a real advantage.

Occasionally, though, it turns out to be the final place they play. Six times in their history they have come home to face postseason elimination — and all six times they have been eliminated.

They will try not to make it seven when they host the Chicago Blackhawks in Game five of the best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinal series Thursday (8:30 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee). Nashville is on the brink of elimination (down 3-1 in the series) following Tuesday’s 3-2 triple-overtime loss at Chicago.

“We’re back home here, we’re in our building with our fans and they’ve been great all year,” coach Peter Laviolette said Wednesday. “You know there’s going to be a lot of energy in the building, and we’ll need that energy. Certainly we can use it, and I think our guys will be ready to play. We’ve got a real quality group of individuals in there that play hard and have a lot of confidence in what they’re doing.”

A look at how things went in the Predators’ other elimination games at home:

2011
Western Conference semifinals (Game 6)
Vancouver 2, Nashville 1:
The Predators lost three of the first four games but extended the series with a Game 5 victory at Vancouver. In Game 6, they fell behind 2-0 when the Canucks scored twice in the span of 1:43 in the first period and couldn’t overcome that deficit. Despite the desperate situation, Nashville managed just 13 shots over the final two periods and David Legwand’s goal at 3:31 of the second period was the only score.

2010
Western Conference quarterfinals (Game 6)
Chicago 5, Nashville 3:
The Predators didn’t go down without a fight, but they went down nonetheless. The teams combined for seven first-period goals and Nashville rallied from deficits of 1-0 and 3-1 to tie but never had the lead. Jonathan Toews’ power-play goal in the final minute of the first put the Blackhawks ahead to stay and John Madden’s empty net goal in the final minute of the third finally put things out of reach.

2008
Western Conference quarterfinals (Game 6)
Detroit 3, Nashville 0:
The game was scoreless for more than 33 minutes until Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom scored a shorthanded goal. The Red Wings added two more in the third, the second of which was an empty-net goal. Nashville was forced to play defense for the vast majority of the contest. It had just 20 shots for the game, including a mere four in the second period. By comparison, the Red Wings had 21 shots in the second period alone.

2007
Western Conference quarterfinals (Game 5)
San Jose 3, Nashville 2:
The Predators trailed 1-0 after the first period but surged ahead when Jason Arnott and Vernon Fiddler scored 39 seconds apart in the second. That lead stood until Patrick Marleau scored on the power play with 2:14 to go before the second intermission (Nashville had four power plays the entire series). Marleau scored again – the game-winner – with 4:21 remaining.

2006
Western Conference quarterfinals (Game 5)
San Jose 2, Nashville 1:
The Predators won the series opener but were outscored 12-5 over the next three contests. They had the NHL’s best home record during the regular season but never led in this one. San Jose took a 2-0 lead on a pair of power play goals, the first by Patrick Marleau with one second to play in the first period. Paul Kariya finally got Nashville on the board at 11:06 of the third period but the Predators never got the equalizer.

2004
Western Conference quarterfinals (Game 6)
Detroit 2, Nashville 0:
The Predators won their first two postseason home games so confidence was high even after a 4-1 loss at Detroit in Game 5. Then the Red Wings scored twice in the opening two minutes and that was that. Nashville managed just 15 shots (exactly five each period) and failed to take advantage of five power plays.
 

Apr 23, 2015 5:05 AM

Wilson's playoff records not a product of working overtime

A lot of records the Nashville Predators have – or will – set in their first-round playoff series with Chicago will have a lot to do with the sheer amount of hockey they’ve played.

Officially, there have been four games. Statistically, there have been more than five given that the teams have played more than three full overtime periods (one in Game 1 and two in Game 4) in addition to parts of two others.

Yet Colin Wilson has tied an individual mark and has needed nothing more than the first period to do so.

The 25-year-old left wing is the fifth player in franchise history to score four goals in a playoff series, and all four have come in the first period. The latest was Tuesday when he put the Predators in front 1-0 at 11:38 of the contest. He also started the scoring in Game 1 (6:07 of the first period) and Game 2 (2:47 of the first period). His other goal came with 27 seconds to play in the opening period of Game 1.

Three of the four have been on the power play, which is a franchise record. Paul Kariya in 2006 and Shea Weber in 2011 had shared the mark with two power play goals in a series.

GO-TO-GUYS
A look at the players who share the Nashville Predators’ record for goals in a single playoff series:

Colin Wilson – 4 (2015 conference quarterfinals vs. Chicago)
Joel Ward – 4 (2011 conference semifinals vs. Vancouver)
David Legwand – 4 (2011 conference semifinals vs. Vancouver)
Martin Erat – 4 (2010 conference quarterfinals vs. Chicago)
J-P Dumont – 4 (2007 conference quarterfinals vs. San Jose)

The fact that Nashville set a franchise playoff record for shots in a game with 54 in the opener and combined shots in a game with 100 in Tuesday’s 3-2 triple-overtime loss at Chicago has as much to do with the length of those contests as it does the team’s more offensive approach under first-year coach Peter Laviolette.

Wilson, though, has put up his numbers well within the bounds of regulation, which is noteworthy. Then again, think how different the series would be if he had managed to score once or twice in overtime.

(Photo: Getty Images)
 

Apr 22, 2015 1:08 PM

Predators' playoff history awash in injury issues

Disappointing? Absolutely.

Surprising? It shouldn’t be.

The injury issues that have plagued the Nashville Predators in their Western Conference quarterfinal series with Chicago are nothing new. In fact, Nashville has a rich history of chasing championships without some of its best players.

Even worse, it’s going to take something dramatic for the Predators to break that tradition. Following Tuesday’s 3-2 triple-overtime loss (the longest game in franchise history) they trail 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.

Maybe they would be in the same predicament even if they had center Mike Fisher and Shea Weber for the last two-plus games. Fisher was injured early in the second period of Game 1 and Weber went out late in the second period of Game 2.

It’s easy to think, though, that things would have been better had those two not gotten hurt. At the same time, it’s tough not to imagine the postseason without at least one key player sidelined by a health issue.

A recap of some of what Nashville has faced in its postseason history:

2004
The player:
Marek Zidlicky was Nashville’s highest scoring defenseman and second-leading scorer overall with 53 points (14 goals, 39 assists) and became the first player in franchise history to play all 82 games in his first season with the team.

The injury: In the opening minutes of Game 1 of the first playoff series in team history, against Detroit, Zidlicky sustained a concussion when he absorbed a check. He missed the remainder of the series.

The outcome: Nashville was limited to one goal or fewer in all four losses of the six-game series with the Red Wings. None of the Predators’ nine goals came from defensemen and Zidlicky’s primary defense partner, Kimmo Timonen, finished with no points and a minus-3 rating.

2006
The player:
Tomas Vokoun set then-franchise records for wins (36) and shutouts (four) in a season. In so doing he helped Nashville earn more than 100 points and a second-place finish in the Central Division for the first time.

The injury: Ten days before the end of the regular season he was diagnosed with blood clots. The treatment caused him to miss the remainder of the schedule and the postseason.

The outcome: Chris Mason replaced Vokoun and allowed three or more goals in each of the first four playoff games against San Jose, one of which Nashville actually won. His goals-against average was 3.45 and the Sharks eliminated the Predators in five games.

2007
The player:
Steve Sullivan immediately became one of the most productive offensive players in franchise history the moment he was acquired in a February 2004 trade with Chicago. In 2006-07 he became one of the first two players ever to have at least 60 points in back-to-back seasons with Nashville and was better than a point-per-game performer.

The injury: He sustained a back injury during a February game against Montreal. The issue not only caused him to miss the remainder of that season and the playoffs, he missed all of 2008 and the first half of 2009.

The outcome: Limited to just 57 games, he still finished fourth on the team in scoring. Even a deadline deal for future Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg was not enough to help the team overcome his absence, and San Jose eliminated Nashville in five games for the second straight season.

2008
The player:
Jason Arnott tied for the team lead with 72 points (only Paul Kariya ever scored more for the Predators) and had a Nashville-best 44 assists during the regular season. At that time, his 248 shots tied a franchise record.

The injury: Arnott scored the game-winner in Game 3 against Detroit, the second of two goals in nine seconds late in the third period. In his exuberance, Alexander Radulov jumped on Arnott and knocked the back of his head into the boards. The incident caused a concussion that knocked Arnott out of the remainder of the series.

The outcome: Arnott played the next game, which Nashville won, but sat out the final two. Detroit limited the Predators to one goal total in those last two, won both and took the series in six games.

2010
The player: Patric Hornqvist became the first Nashville draft pick ever to score 30 goals for the franchise and tied a team record with eight game-winning goals. No other Predators player had more than 21 goals and Hornqvist’s team-best plus-18 rating was more than double all but two of his teammates’.

The injury: He was hit by a slap shot in the next-to-last game of the regular season, April 7 at Phoenix. He sat out the final game before the playoffs.

The outcome: Hornqvist made it back in the lineup and played 13 minutes in the playoff opener against Chicago, a 4-1 Predators victory but missed the next four games. He returned and had an assist in Game 6, but the Blackhawks won that one 5-3 and closed out the series.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Apr 22, 2015 1:30 AM

Start time set for next Predators' home playoff game

It will be another late night Thursday for the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena.

Team personnel and their fans can only hope that it won’t be the last night.

The National Hockey League on Monday announced start times for three opening-round Game 5s, including the one between the Predators and Blackhawks at Bridgestone Arena.

That game will start at 8:30 p.m. (CDT), the same time as the most recent contest in Nashville’s building. The Predators set several franchise playoff records in that one, a 6-2 victory Friday in Game 2.

Depending on what happens in Game 4 Tuesday at Chicago (8:30 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee), Game 5 could be an elimination contest for Nashville, which currently trails 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.

The Predators are 0-6 all-time in elimination games at home.
 

Apr 20, 2015 2:44 PM

Predators' playoff scoring coming from previously untapped resources

Regardless of what happens in the remainder of their first-round series with Chicago, the Nashville Predators have established an offensive foundation for playoff series’ to come, either this year or in future seasons.

Eight players have combined to score 11 goals in the first three games and five of those eight never had never scored an NHL playoff goal before last week. Colin Wilson, whose three are one short of tying the franchise record for goals in a playoff series, only had one.

Five of the eight are 25 or younger.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that none of the Predators have scored enough to win more than once thus far. Saturday’s 4-2 loss at Chicago gave the Blackhawks a 2-1 series lead with Game 4 set for 8:30 p.m. Tuesday (Fox Sports-Tennessee).

GAINING EXPERIENCE
A look at the players who have scored goals for the Nashville Predators through the first three games of their Western Conference quarterfinal series with Chicago and the number of career playoff goals each now has:

Colin Wilson
Goals this series: 3
Career playoff goals: 4

Craig Smith
Goals this series: 2
Career playoff goals: 2

Mike Ribeiro
Goals this series: 1
Career playoff goals: 7

Viktor Stalberg
Goals this series: 1
Career playoff goals: 2

Filip Forsberg
Goals this series: 1
Career playoff goals: 1

Mike Santorelli
Goals this series: 1
Career playoff goals: 1

Roman Josi
Goals this series: 1
Career playoff goals: 1

Mattias Ekholm
Goals this series: 1
Career playoff goals: 1

Ekholm became the latest to get his first postseason goal when he scored 58 seconds into the second period Sunday, 22 seconds after Chicago had taken a 2-1 lead. Ribeiro, who had a relatively whopping six career playoff goals prior to this season, scored Nashville’s first.

While the youngsters have been breaking their postseason maidens some of the more proven performers have yet to break through – or they have broken down. Guys like James Neal and Matt Cullen (11 career playoff goals apiece) have yet to find the back of the net while Mike Fisher (18) and Shea Weber (10) have been lost to injury. Fisher has been out since the second period of Game 1 and Weber was injured in the second period of Game 1.

"I'm just having fun," Wilson, who is currently tied for the league lead in playoff goals, said. "It's fun being in the playoffs and trying to win."

It’s traditionally much more difficult to score in the postseason than it is during the regular season, and for those who hadn’t done it knowledge is power. Now that they know they can do it, it should be easier to do it the next time.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Apr 20, 2015 6:21 AM

Minus Weber, Predators' top defense pair turns in 'minus' performance

The Nashville Predators got through the third period of Friday’s game just fine without Shea Weber.

They did not fare as well in the third game of their Western Conference quarterfinal series with Chicago, however.

Whatever optimism existed following Friday’s 6-2 victory in Game 2 was largely tempered with Sunday’s 4-2 defeat at the United Center.

"I thought that our [defense] did a good job," Rinne said, according to NHL.com. "Obviously [Weber] is a world-class player and any team would miss him, but I think overall we have as good of a [defense] corps as any team in the League. I thought that the guys did a good job."

It’s not that Nashville lost. A lot of teams do the same when they play at Chicago in the postseason. The Blackhawks are now an NHL-best 36-13 at home in playoff games from 2009 through now.

It’s that Weber’s absence was so notable.

Seth Jones took the captain’s place on the right side of the top defense pairing with Roman Josi. Those two were on the ice for each of Chicago’s first three goals and each had a minus-3 rating, the worst of any player on either team.

Josi finished the regular season with a plus-15 rating that tied him for second on the team. In 81 appearances he was a minus-3 just once. Jones was one of four Nashville players who appeared in all 82 games of the regular season – and he was no worse than a minus-2 in any of them. He was a minus-3 just once last season as an 18-year-old rookie.

The performance was a far cry from Friday’s third period when Nashville set a franchise playoff record with three goals in a span of 2:19 and pulled away to even the series. Weber was injured in the second period of that game and did not return. He also did not travel to Chicago for Games 3 and 4 of the series, the second of which is Tuesday (8:30 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee).

The Predators outshot the Blackhawks 37-30 on Sunday but never led. Chicago scored all of its goals by 12:41 of the second period and successfully sat on the lead from there.

"I guess we've got to have a little better coverage in our [defensive] zone and just try to keep them away from our net and not let them go in the interior," Josi said, per NHL.com. "They've got a lot of skilled forwards. They're going to create chances. We've just got to make sure to limit them."

(Photo: Getty Images)
 

Apr 20, 2015 6:10 AM