NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Nashville Predators need measure themselves against the Detroit Red Wings no more.
David Legwand scored 13 seconds into the third period, and the Predators advanced to the Western Conference semifinals with a 2-1 victory over the Red Wings on Friday night.
The fourth-seeded Predators won the series 4-1, capping a season in which they finished ahead of their Central Division rival for the first time, and beat the Red Wings for the first time in three playoff series. Nashville made it even sweeter by handing the Red Wings their earliest post-season departure since a six-game, first-round loss to Edmonton in 2006.
Nashville coach Barry Trotz said Detroit has been the gold standard for the Central Division and especially the Predators.
“We’ve grown to the point where we have great respect for the Detroit Red Wings, but we’re not in awe of them,” Trotz said. “That’s the stepping stone that we’ve taken. Obviously, beating Detroit in the first round is a step in the right direction.”
Nashville became the first team to advance this post-season, and the Predators could face third-seeded Phoenix in the second round. The Coyotes lead Chicago 3-1.
“It’s not time to celebrate,” Nashville forward Alexander Radulov said. “I mean it’s only the first round.”
Legwand added an assist, and Radulov also had a goal and assist for Nashville. The team that scored first won each game, and that was Nashville again.
Jiri Hudler scored for Detroit, which heads into the summer having lost three straight waiting to see if captain Nicklas Lidstrom has played his last game after 20 seasons. Lidstrom has said the past couple days that, as usual, he will decide whether he returns in the summer.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock said he thought the Red Wings played well in this series until Game 5, which he called their worst.
“When you lose 4-1 in a series, you can talk about all of the games being a one-goal game,” Babcock said. “To me that’s not close, 4-1 is not close.”
The Predators won the final three in the series by allowing only four goals, and Friday night they outshot and outhit the older Red Wings. They got the winning goal from Legwand, a native of the Detroit area, who scored on a wrister off an assists from Gabriel Bourque and Radulov.
“It’s special obviously to beat those guys,” said Legwand, Nashville’s first draft pick as a franchise and No. 2 overall in 1998. “Great organization, great team. They’ve had their fair share of wins and series wins and those types of things. So they’re obviously going to (come) back strong. We’re excited to get this one and move onto round two and get to see who we play now.”
Trotz said he knew Legwand would break out as a difference maker at some point.
“David Legwand had his ‘A’ game,” Trotz said.
The Red Wings took a timeout with 3.1 seconds left after Henrik Zetterberg missed a rebound and the puck was iced. They added some time, putting the clock at 4.2 seconds. It just wasn’t enough as the Predators cleared the puck to start the celebration.
Legwand’s goal started the sold-out crowd counting down the final minutes, eager to celebrate this former expansion franchise’s biggest victory yet against Detroit. Fans even gathered outside the arena watching on a giant TV, and those inside gave the Predators three standing ovations in the third period during timeouts.
Country singer Keith Urban and his wife, actress Nicole Kidman, also were on hand decked out in the free gold T-shirts for the home fans.
This is just the Predators’ seventh playoff appearance in eight seasons, but Nashville improved to 2-0 in elimination games by winning its second straight first-round series.
Nashville had watched teams such as Pittsburgh and Vancouver stave off elimination since they won Game 4 in Detroit on Tuesday night, so the Predators were ready when the Red Wings came out with all the desperation of a franchise that had won 32 post-season series during their 21 straight playoff appearances.
Detroit opened the game by outshooting the Predators 6-1, and Valterri Filppula even had a partial breakaway attempt midway through the first period only to see Pekka Rinne make the save.
But the Predators withstood the early flurry and started going on the offence, and they finally went up 1-0 when Detroit defenceman Kyle Quincey misplayed the puck. Legwand grabbed it and fired a pass to Radulov in front, and he easily beat goalie Jimmy Howard with a wrister at 16:10.
In Nashville tradition, the first of at least a couple catfish was tossed on the ice in celebration with fans finally having a reason to cheer and release some of their pent-up emotions.
That seemed to fire the Predators up even more, and rookie Craig Smith, making his playoff debut, had two chances late in the period. His shot from in front went just right of the post, and he chased down the puck, skating around the net and throwing it back across the crease.
Zetterberg helped the Red Wings tie it up when he threw the puck toward the front of the net with Filppula getting an assist before Hudler poked the puck past Rinne’s right skate at 13:45 of the second. The Predators killed off the rest of the period before getting a much-needed breather at the second intermission.
“It’s disappointing,” Detroit defenceman Niklas Kronwall said. “Right now it’s just empty I think. Everyone in here believed something completely different than what the outcome was.”
Notes: Nashville ousted Anaheim in six games in the first round last season. … Detroit beat Nashville in the opening round in both 2004 and 2008. … The goal was Radulov’s sixth in the post-season but his first of this series. He has five points in this post-season. Bourque, a rookie, now has four points in his first post-season series. … Country singer Martina McBride joined the house band at the first intermission. … The Predators outshot Detroit 10-8 in the first period, the first period they’ve done that in this series since the third period of Game 2. … Lidstrom, Detroit’s leader in post-season points and games played, did not notch a point in the series.