NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In Nashville, it’s dubbed the Predator Way: Work hard, scrap, defend at all costs and score just enough timely goals to win.
Nashville certainly isn’t changing its ways in the Western Conference semifinals.
“We’re OK with the hard stuff,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said Monday after practice. “If anybody’s been around us … we haven’t done anything easy ever. The harder it gets, it might sound sick, but we get really good when it gets hard. Great resiliency, and I expect us to up our compete level and conviction level even higher.”
The Predators evened up their series with Vancouver at 1-1 by pushing the Canucks into double overtime before winning 2-1 Saturday night. Only three goals have been scored in the first two games, and the Canucks are bracing for more of the same Tuesday night for Game 3.
These teams feature two of the three Vezina Trophy finalists; Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo and Pekka Rinne of Nashville. Vancouver may scored more goals in the regular season than anyone in the NHL, but the Canucks also held opponents to a league-fewest 185 goals. Nashville was third giving up 194.
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said both teams also play very well without the puck.
“There’s not a lot of room. There’s not a lot of time out there to make plays, and he’s a good goaltender. You’ve got to give him credit. I didn’t expect coming into this these would be high-scoring games, and they haven’t been so far,” he said.
Scratching and clawing for a single goal or two plays right into the Predators’ comfort zone. During the regular season, it seemed as if Nashville was more comfortable pushing a game to overtime to reach the shootout. Nashville had 19 overtime games, winning six in shootouts with its first win in extra time coming March 17 against Boston.
Rinne said the Predators are pretty comfortable with as many tight games as they play during the regular season. In this post-season, the Predators have won their last two overtime games in the playoffs after losing the first three in franchise history.
“It’s a strength of this team,” Rinne said. We don’t panic when we are one goal down or it’s a tie game. We have a lot of experience from that kind of game.”
These teams scored 14 goals combined in four regular season games. In this series, Rinne’s save percentage is .958 compared to Luongo at .970. Luongo stopped 44 shots in the double overtime loss, the most Nashville had ever taken in a playoff game.
So in a series where the tiniest mistake could turn into the game-winner, it’s a pressure both goalies are welcoming even as both teams talk of stacking more bodies in front of the net. To Luongo, it’s fun. If he does have some tips for his teammates on how to beat Rinne, it’s take advantage when the six-foot-five Finn goes down to block a shot.
“We’ve had a few occasions where we’ve had Pekka down and out. That’s where we’ve got to bury the chances. he might make the first save. If we get him out of position, we have to make sure we really bear down on those chances and make sure he doesn’t get an arm or a leg or a stick on it,” Luongo said.
Some line changes may be coming to revive the Canucks’ high-scoring offence. Alex Burrows may be moving back onto the line with Henrik and Daniel Sedin. Neither of the Sedins have scored in this series, while Burrows has four goals in four games since being taken off their line. Burrows scored the Canucks’ lone goal Saturday night short-handed.
Vigneault cautioned against reading into the combinations he had in practice Monday.
“If I have to play with the twins, best job in hockey right there playing with the two best in the NHL,” Burrows said. “Just keep giving them the puck and do what I do, go to the net and be ready for those … passes.”
Vancouver defenceman Sami Salo travelled with the Canucks and practised Monday. Vigneault said Salo is day to day since suffering an undisclosed injury in Game 6 of the opening series with Chicago.
Tuesday night will bring another raucous, sellout crowd a year after the Bridgestone Arena flooded along with parts of downtown Nashville. This series will give Canada a close look at a town long derided for not deserving a hockey team. The Predators believe their passionate fans will change that perception.
“I can’t wait personally,” Predators forward Jerred Smithson said. “It’s so much fun. This city’s going crazy I can only imagine what the fans are going to be like. … We’re excited to get back home.”