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)
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).
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:
Goals this series: 3
Career playoff goals: 4
Goals this series: 2
Career playoff goals: 2
Goals this series: 1
Career playoff goals: 7
Goals this series: 1
Career playoff goals: 2
Goals this series: 1
Career playoff goals: 1
Goals this series: 1
Career playoff goals: 1
Goals this series: 1
Career playoff goals: 1
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)
If there were a way to accurately measure emotions, Wednesday’s 2015 playoff opener likely would have set the record for most disappointing postseason loss in Nashville Predators history.
As it is, players, coaches and everyone else who took in the action must decide for themselves the depth of their despair following a 4-3 double-overtime loss at Bridgestone Arena in a game Nashville led by three before the end of the first period and ultimately set several actual franchise playoff records.
“You would rather be sitting in a different position, for sure, but it is only one game,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “We are going to get ready [and] pull a lot of positives from this game.”
A look at some of what occurred in the contest that lasted three hours and 43 minutes:
• It was the third longest playoff game in franchise history at 87:49 and the second longest postseason contest (by 25 seconds) to a 5-4 double-overtime loss to San Jose on April 11, 2007.
• Nashville’s 54 shots on goal broke the record of 46 set April 30, 2011 at Vancouver (also a double-overtime contest).
• Nashville’s 17 shots in the third period set a record. The previous mark was 16 (twice) and the previous high in a home game was 15 (three times).
• The combined 96 shots on goal (Chicago had 42) easily surpassed the 81 that Nashville and San Jose had in that 2007 contest.
• James Neal tied the franchise record for shots in a game with nine. Patric Hornqvist (April 15, 2011 at Anaheim) is the only other player ever to do so.
• Filip Forsberg’s seven shots on goal set a Nashville rookie playoff record. Alexander Radulov had the previous mark of six (April 11, 2007 vs. San Jose).
• Three goals in one period (the first) tied the franchise record for a home playoff game. The Predators had done it three times previously (it’s worth noting that their only loss in those three games was to Chicago, 5-3 in 2010).
For what it’s worth, players and head coach Peter Laviolette did not seem terribly disappointed when it was over. In fact, they expressed a certain optimism about the things they did accomplish.
“I thought we played a really good game,” Nashville captain Shea Weber said. “Five-on-five, I thought we had some really good chances to win it. It just didn’t go our way, and we have to move past it. We have to put it behind us. In the playoffs, it’s short term [memory].
“They won and we didn’t. We have to move forward. We can’t dwell on anything.”
Added Colin Wilson, whose two goals also tied a Nashville playoff record (it happened 12 times previously): “Yeah. It’s the big cliché. It’s one game at a time, especially in playoffs. You never want to lose, especially in double overtime. I think we have a great group here and I like the way that we played (Wednesday) night.”
No doubt the Nashville Predators missed Mike Fisher on Wednesday.
After all, there is a lot to miss.
“You take a guy out that you could go down a checklist of things that you need from players on the ice,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “From faceoffs, leadership, power play, penalty kill, checking center, offensive center – you just keep checking the box. When he comes out of the lineup that’s big shoes to fill.”
The Predators’ leader in NHL playoff experience (this was his 99th postseason contest) was injured on his first shift of the second period and did not return. Given that the team’s 2015 postseason opener went into a second overtime before Chicago stunned Nashville and a sellout crowd at Bridgestone Arena 4-3, the veteran center missed more than a full game’s worth of action.
He logged just 5:32 of ice time in a game that lasted more than 87 minutes before Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith ended it at 7:49 of the second overtime. Before he left he won half of his six faceoffs, delivered two hits and had one takeaway.
“That was big,” Laviolette said. “… We used different people in there. Matt Cullen got a lot of it. I thought he did an excellent job jumping up in there and helping fill that position. Certainly, to lose (him) with just a regulation time of two periods that’s a lot. Then to go to a first overtime and the second half of a second overtime, that’s a big piece out of our lineup.”
Cullen opened the game as left wing on a line with center Callae Jarnkrok and right wing Viktor Stalberg. Those two ended up playing less than any of the other Nashville forwards while Cullen spent a lot of time (he played 23:32) in Fisher’s spot, at center between Colin Wilson and James Neal.
Team officials said only that Fisher had a lower body injury. There was no word on his status for the remainder of the series.
Game 2 of the series is 8:30 p.m. Friday (Fox Sports-Tennessee).
(Photo: Getty Images)
It feels a lot longer than three years ago that the Nashville Predators played their last playoff game.
Regardless, the wait ends Wednesday when Nashville hosts Chicago in the first game of a best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinal series (7:30 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee).
Prior to their two-year absence, the Predators had made the postseason seven times in eight years – and had gotten better at it. In each of their last two appearances they made it to the second round.
The question now is whether they will can up where they left off or if they have to start over with a new coach, a lot of new players and an opponent that is well-versed with what it takes to win at this time of year.
Three reasons to believe the Nashville Predators will beat the Chicago Blackhawks in their first-round playoff series
• The Best of Times: When Nashville was good this season it was really good. More often than not through the first three-quarters of the schedule the Predators had the best record in the league and looked like it would be this season’s best story. The level of play tailed off down the stretch, but the Predators have shown they can be as good as anybody. All they have to do is show it again.
• The Real Deal: With all due respect to Filip Forsberg, who led the team with 26 goals, Nashville never has had a more dangerous shooter than James Neal, who scored 23 times in 67 games. He scored five of Nashville’s 11 goals against Chicago during the regular season and must be a difference-maker in this series. Nashville is a tidy 12-3-3 this season when he scores.
• The Laviolette effect: First-year coach Peter Laviolette’s career playoff record is a winning one (43-39) and the last time he took over a team, Philadelphia in 2009-10, he took it to the conference finals in his first year. There’s no doubt his presence injected new life into the franchise at the start of the season. Perhaps he can do the same at the start of the postseason.
Three reasons to believe the Nashville Predators will lose to the Chicago Blackhawks in their first-round playoff series
• Fading down the stretch: Neither team finished with a flourish. Nashville was 0-4-2 in its last six and Chicago was 0-4-0 in its last four. However, the Predators were consistently bad down the stretch and won just six of their final 21 games. The Blackhawks won twice as often over that same stretch, which makes their late stumble look more like a deep breath from a team planning for another long playoff run.
• Raising Kane: Even if his play is a notch or two below what it was when he had 64 points (27 goals, 37 assists) in 61 regular-season games, his mere presence is a boost to his teammates and creates matchup issues for the Predators. Plus, he’s almost a point-per-game player in his postseason career (91 points in 93 games) so it’s not as if he’s going to be just a guy out there. Kane has been out since Feb. 24 with a broken collarbone and his return comes well ahead of schedule – and exactly the wrong time for the Predators.
• Nothing new: Nashville is in the playoffs for the first time in three years and a significant portion of its roster has not NHL playoff experience at all. Chicago has won the Stanley Cup twice in the last five years and last year reached the conference finals after it finished third in the division, as it did this year. With Boston and Los Angeles out, there is no more playoff-proven team in this year’s field than the Blackhawks.
The bottom line
Regardless of seeding and home-ice advantage, the Predators have to be considered the underdogs in their series. They don’t have the consistent scoring among their forwards or the history of playoff success on which to rely that the Blackhawks do.
That’s not to say they can’t win it. If they don’t get off to a good start in Wednesday’s series opener, though, it’s only going to get more difficult.
James Neal has emerged as the Nashville Predators’ go-to guy when games go to overtime.
The right wing ended Monday’s game at Arizona — and a six-game losing streak — when he scored a 2:45 of overtime and lifted the Predators to a 2-1 victory in the first of a four-game road trip.
It was Neal’s second overtime goal of the season (his team-leading sixth game-winner). That made him just the second player in franchise history with multiple overtime goals in a season since the league adopted the current five-minute, four-on-four format in 2005-06. He also ended the Feb. 10 game against Tampa Bay.
The only other Nashville player to do so was David Legwand, who did it twice, 2009-10 and 2011-12.
"It felt really good to see that puck go in," Predators goalie Pekka Rinne told The Tennessean. "It's been a long time. Obviously you never want to go through these things, but hopefully it makes us better and hopefully makes us appreciate what we have in the locker room and what we've done so far this year."
Overtime goals happened more often in the pre-lockout era from 1998-99 through 2003-04. Still, though, no Predators player ever has had more than two in a season.
OVER(TIME) AND OUT
A look at the Nashville Predators’ all-time leaders for overtime goals in a season:
2 – James Neal (2014-15)
2 – David Legwand (2011-12)
2 – David Legwand (2009-10)
2 – Scott Hartnell (2003-04)
2 – Andy Delmore (2002-03)
2 – Scott Walker (2002-03)
2 – Denis Arkhipov (2001-02)
2 – David Legwand (2000-01)
The overtime heroics are nothing new to Neal. He scored three of Pittsburgh’s four OT goals last season, which tied him with two others for the league lead.
At Arizona, Nashville scored the first goal for the first time in 12 games when Paul Gaustad converted at 3:26 of the second period. The Predators remained in front until 7:27 of the third when Arizona converted 2:37 into a double-minor against Neal for high-sticking.
"That was a tough one," Neal said, according to The Tennessean. "I obviously have to control my stick, but I didn't know I clipped him there. They came back and scored on that, so to be able to get one back felt good."
For him, it was a familiar feeling.
(Photo: Getty Images)
Even though they rarely have been one of the NHL’s top offensive teams, it was not exactly unprecedented when James Neal became the first Nashville Predators player to score 20 goals this season.
He got there when capped the scoring in Nashville’s 5-1 victory over San Jose at 10:31 of the second period Tuesday. In all, it marked the 36th time in franchise history a player scored at least 20 and made him the 21st different player to do it.
What made the milestone somewhat unique is how Neal came to the Predators. They got him in a trade – and teams don’t often ship out proven goal scorers, which is exactly what Neal is.
This is now the seventh consecutive season – with three different teams – he has scored 20 or more. He did it three times with Dallas, three times with Pittsburgh and now in his first season with Nashville.
In terms of the number of players to do it and the number of times it was done, Nashville has had more luck finding 20-goal scorers in the draft than it has any other method. Free agency has produced as many 20-goal scorers, but those in that group have done it more consistently.
• Draft picks (eight players, 16 times): Patric Hornqvist (09-10, 10-11, 11-12, 13-14), Martin Erat (05-06, 07-08, 09-10), Shea Weber (08-09, 13-14), David Legwand (06-07, 08-09), Scott Hartnell (05-06, 06-07), Craig Smith (13-14), Alexander Radulov (07-08), Denis Arkhipov (01-02),
• Free agents (six players, 10 times): Jason Arnott (06-07, 07-08, 08-09), J-P Dumont (06-07, 07-08), Paul Kariya (05-06, 06-07), Andreas Johansson (02-03), Yannic Perreault (05-06), Patric Kjellberg (99-00).
• Trade acquisitions (six players, 8 times): Steve Sullivan (05-06, 06-07), Mike Fisher (11-12, 13-14), Cliff Ronning (99-00), James Neal (14-15), Sergei Krivokrasov (98-99), Sergei Kostitsyn (10-11).
• Expansion draft (one player, 2 times): Scott Walker (00-01, 03-04).
While Neal was the first, he certainly won’t be the last. As many a six could potentially get there, depending on how productive they are over the season’s final 25 games. That would match 2006-07 for the most in franchise history.
The next in line to get there is Filip Forsberg, who currently has 19. Forsberg, of course, was another trade acquisition.
Once the playoffs start results like the one the Nashville Predators managed Tuesday will be meaningless.
The Predators claimed a lively, entertaining matchup of conference leaders when James Neal’s goal with 33 seconds to play in overtime gave them a 3-2 triumph over the Tampa Bay Lightning at Bridgestone Arena.
It was their sixth overtime victory of the season, which tied a franchise record, and the 11th in games that extended beyond regulation (they are 5-4 in shootouts). This season, only Calgary, with seven, has won more often during the five-minute sudden-victory period. Just two teams, Anaheim and the New York Islanders, have more combined OT and shootout wins (12 each).
A look at the Nashville Predators’ records in games decided during the four-on-four overtime period (based on most wins) since that format was adopted in 2005-06:
Nashville’s six overtime goals this season have come from six different players: Neal, Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi, Shea Weber, Craig Smith and Mattis Ekholm.
“Josi made a good play there to get it to the middle and I was able to get it back on my stick and got it on net as quickly as I could,” Neal said of the latest, his team-leading fifth game-winning goal of the season. “… (The Lightning) are one of the best teams in the league so we knew it was going to be a tough game all night.”
It turned out to be another long night when Tampa rallied from a two-goal deficit and scored twice in the first eight minutes of the third period. Nashville now has played beyond regulation in its last two contests and five of its last 10.
Overtime games in the regular season are decided one of two ways: the five-minute four-on-four overtime period and the shootout. Neither is used in the postseason.
The upside is that overtime/shootout wins during the regular season help teams get to the playoffs and are a factor in where they are seeded when they do.
Based on Nashville’s history, though, they are not an indicator of playoff success. In 2009-10, when the Predators were 6-2 in overtime, they lost in the first round of the playoffs. The previous season, when they were 6-3, they did not even qualify. Conversely, the first time they made it out of the first round, 2010-11, was the season they were worst during the four-on-four overtime.
There’s almost no way Nashville won’t make the playoffs this season. Then again, there’s almost nothing to be gained from results such as Tuesday’s will once it does.
“Other than the success factor, there’s really not a lot to it,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “The four-on-four game doesn’t mirror the five-on-five game. There’s a lot less systematic play with four-on-four. There’s more wide open, up-and-down the ice (play). There’s a lot more systems when it comes to the five-on-five, so I think that’s what you’ll see in overtime when the playoffs come around.”
The first part of the NHL season has been a plus for the Nashville Predators.
There is any number of ways to make that case, chief among them the standings. Nashville is first in the Central Division and second overall at the All-Star break, which began Thursday.
Another clear indicator is the individual plus-minus rankings.
Currently 26 players have ratings of plus-15 or better and five of them are Predators. Tampa Bay and St. Louis each have four, the New York Islanders have three and no one else has more than two.
ON THE PLUS SIDE
A look at Nashville’s plus-minus leaders and where they rank in the NHL (through Wednesday):
3. Filip Forsberg – plus-24
T7. Colin Wilson – plus-22
T13. Shea Weber – plus-16
T13. James Neal – plus-16
T19. Mike Ribeiro – plus-15
Plus-minus typically is a useful statistic only in terms of the extremes. A winning team, for example, will have more players than not with positive ratings. It’s the ones who are far better than most or actually have a negative rating in that situation that are noteworthy.
For Nashville, predictably, 12 players fall between plus-2 and plus-12. Six have lower ratings, including two regulars on the wrong side of even (Taylor Beck minus-3 and Gabriel Bourque minus-5). Six others are above that mark.
For those who don’t know, plus-minus measures the number of times a player is on the ice when his team scores versus the number of times he is on the ice when his team is scored upon. Power-play goals do not factor into the number.
To have more players near the top than any other team in the league unquestionably is an indication that the Predators are getting better-than-average play from as many (if not more) players as any team.
In the history of the franchise, only four Nashville players have finished a season plus-20 or better. David Legwand set the record of plus-23 in 2006-07. Shea Weber (2011-12) and Ryan Suter (2010-11) each posted a plus-21 and Kimmo Timonen (2006-07) had a plus-20.
There is the possibility that at least that many can reach that mark this season – and the majority of them might be forwards. That only can be viewed as a positive.
It sounds incongruous.
What makes Mike Ribeiro such an effective passer, though, is his willingness and ability to hang on to the puck.
“He’s always been, I think, a guy that would rather have the puck on his stick,” Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “It seems to stick to him in traffic and hard areas. He’s able to keep his cool and keep possession of the puck. What it does is it drags people in, I think, and he’s able to find others on the ice.
“He’s certainly doing it well this year but I don’t think it’s anything new for him. I’d say that’s always been his trait.”
Through the first 44 games, Ribeiro has a team-leading 29 assists, which is at least five more than any of his teammates have produced and ranks among the NHL’s top 10.
There have been times in Predators history when that number would have qualified as almost a season’s worth. It was just last year that Shea Weber finished with a team-leading 33 assists. Steve Sullivan had a Nashville-best 34 in 2009-10.
At his current pace, Ribeiro will equal the franchise record of 54 set in 2005-06. Kariya had another 52 the following season but no other player in franchise history ever has reached 50.
A look at the Nashville Predators’ season-by-season assists leaders (2005-06 through present):
2005-06: Paul Kariya – 54
2006-07: Paul Kariya – 52
2007-08: Jason Arnott – 44
2008-09: J-P Dumont – 49
2009-10: Steve Sullivan – 34
2010-11: Ryan Suter – 35
2011-12: Martin Erat/Ryan Suter – 39
2012-13-x: Shea Weber –19
2013-14: Shea Weber – 33
2014-15-y: Mike Ribeiro – 29
(x-48-game season; y-through 44 games)
“My first thought is to find an open guy,” Ribeiro said. “I’ve always said if there’s someone blessed with a better shot you might as well give them the puck.”
The 34-year-old has more than twice as many assists (483) as goals (211) in an NHL career that began in 1999-2000 with the Montreal Canadiens, the Predators’ next opponent.
Nashville plays at Montreal on Tuesday (6:30 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee) in their final game before the All-Star break. It is a homecoming for Ribeiro, a Montreal native who first attracted attention as a player in the Quebec Amateur Athletic Association.
“I was always passing the puck first and then, obviously, in juniors I was scoring a little more than I do here,” Ribeiro said. “Some guys when they touch the puck, their first thought is to shoot. … My role, I think, is to create chances. If I do that, I know I’ll score 15-20 goals but my main thing is to create offensive chances for the team.”
It is not a coincidence that three of Nashville’s top four goal scorers — Filip Forsberg, James Neal and Craig Smith — have spent a lot of time with Ribeiro on the first line. Neal was the right wing on that unit to start and recently it has been Smith there.
Five times this season Riberio has had multiple assists in a game, most recently last Tuesday when he had two in a victory over Vancouver. He is one of two Nashville players to register three assists in a game.
All because he hangs on to the puck.
“He’s creative,” Smith said. “He might not be looking at you but it might be coming hot on your tape. He’s a great player.
“He’s poised, which draws guys into him and he’s able to make some really nice passes.”
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