The franchise that signed Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont last summer, then traded for Peter Forsberg in February to strengthen their chase of the Stanley Cup now finds itself in exactly the same position as a year ago, trailing San Jose 3-1 in their best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final series.
The Sharks flew into Nashville and closed out that series with a 4-1 win. The Predators, who lost 3-2 Wednesday night, returned home Thursday afternoon determined to keep San Jose from celebrating in their arena.
“Obviously, we have our backs against the wall now, but we are a good team when we have our backs against the wall,” said Nashville coach Barry Trotz, whose future with the team could hinge on how they react because his contract has not been extended past this season.
The Predators have been here before and not responded. The Detroit Red Wings finished off Nashville in six games in Tennessee in 2004, and the Predators never really were in Game 5 with San Jose last year.
NHL history is not on the Predators’ side either. Of the 214 teams that trailed 3-1 in a best-of-seven series, only 20 rallied to win the series (9.3 per cent).
Predators goaltender Tomas Vokoun draws hope from that as they try to add their name to that list of comeback teams.
“It’s been done before. In this situation, we can only focus on the game in Nashville. It’s tough to be down 3-1, but you’re still alive. It’s the time to get ready for the next one and thinking about winning that one,” Vokoun said.
If the Predators have any advantage now they lacked a year ago, it’s playoff experience. Forsberg, picked up from Philadelphia for two players and two draft picks, brought two Stanley Cup rings with him. With Dumont, Arnott and defenceman Vitaly Vishnevski, that added 298 games of playoff experience going into this series.
Forsberg said it’s frustrating to be down 3-1 after fighting hard and even outshooting the Sharks 24-23 Wednesday night.
“We’ll just worry about the next one,” Forsberg said. “We have home-ice again, and we can think about how we played at home and then go play with that confidence.”
The Sharks successfully changed the tone of this series between two of the top five teams in the regular season from the nasty, brawling games in Nashville and took both games in San Jose with hard work and very physical hockey.
San Jose defenceman Scott Hannan has an idea of what the Sharks will see Friday night.
“I expect a desperate team. They’re going to come out. They’re going to be flying. They’re going to have their fans behind them. We want to come out and focus on playing our game. If we can do that, we can weather the storm there for awhile. I think we’ll be good,” he said.
This series couldn’t be much closer in offence with San Jose scoring 13 goals to Nashville’s 12.
A year ago, the Predators couldn’t stop San Jose on the power play, giving up nine of 17 goals in the series when down at least a man. Now, nobody in the playoffs has been more effective killing penalties with Nashville giving up only one goal on 23 power plays, and that was on a 5-on-3.
But Nashville will have to stay out of the penalty box after having to kill 13 penalties combined – including two 5-on-3s – in the second period in this series where the Sharks have taken control.
The Predators can count on a sold-out arena Friday night after having to threaten to black out the local television broadcast last year.
“We’ll go there and try to end it, but we know it will be even harder,” Sharks forward Milan Michalek. “This is a tough series with two really good teams.”