NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Just a few days ago, the Detroit Red Wings were less than four minutes away grabbing a 3-0 lead in their Western Conference playoff series with the Nashville Predators.
Now the NHL’s best team finds itself in a first-round fight.
Dan Hamhuis and Shea Weber scored in 32-second span in the first period, and the Predators evened the series against the top-seeded Red Wings with a 3-2 victory in Game 4 on Wednesday night.
Dan Ellis stopped 39 shots, Greg de Vries added a goal and Martin Erat had two assists as the eighth-seeded Predators grabbed a lead in the first period and never let up on the Red Wings. They even chased six-time Vezina Trophy winner Dominik Hasek at 6:35 of the second, having stopped 11 of 14 shots.
Not that Nashville coach Barry Trotz, whose never won a playoff series, is celebrating yet.
“We haven’t done anything yet. The only satisfaction is we got a win tonight,” he said.
Game 5 is Friday night in Detroit.
Pavel Datsyuk scored twice for Detroit, which won its sixth President’s Trophy in 13 years this season and has more post-season victories than any other pro sports franchise.
All that hasn’t helped the Red Wings since the series shifted back to Nashville and the Predators made NHL history in Game 3 on Monday night.
Nashville became the first team to go from trailing to leading in under 10 seconds by scoring two goals within nine seconds. That forced the Red Wings into some soul searching and lots of talk about keeping their composure and clamping down after giving up a goal.
Whatever the problem is, it didn’t get fixed.
Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall went to the penalty box for hooking, and Hamhuis scored his first career post-season goal from the left circle over Hasek’s glove off a centre ice pass from Alexander Radulov at 5:18 of the first.
Then Weber beat Hasek for a 2-0 lead at 5:50, a goal that rattled the Red Wings, who now have given up two goals in under 35 seconds in three straight games.
“I wish I could bottle that. I could probably make a few dollars in the coaching fraternity,” Trotz said.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock, who said he was pretty sure which goalie he would start Friday night but would wait to say, denied that his Red Wings got rattled or that the first two goals were the type he had talked to his team about limiting.
“We lost a faceoff, and it ended up in our net,” Babcock said. “To me, that’s not running around or anything like that. That’s losing a faceoff, so I think it’s a different thing totally. You can call it the same if you want.”
Erat nearly made it 3-0 with 12:17 left as he skated around the net and tried to sneak the puck in with Hasek sprawled on his back. But the 43-year-old goalie was able to stretch out his left skate to the post and stop the puck.
Hasek couldn’t hide his frustration when after stopping a shot redirected by Jan Hlavac in the opening minutes of the second. Kronwall tipped the puck back to him, and Hasek flung the puck away.
Detroit seemed ready to finally answer when Datsyuk scored with the man advantage at 6:24 of the second. He easily beat Ellis from the left circle as the goalie, in only his fourth NHL playoff game, came out to the edge of the circle to challenge him only to miss the puck.
Nashville answered back, and yes, it was only seconds later. This time, 11 seconds went by before de Vries wound up for a slap shot that beat Hasek between the pads for a 3-1 lead at 6:35. Detroit pulled the man that led the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup in 2002 and replace him with Chris Osgood.
“The one thing that is really hurting us in this series is, we score a goal and then they get one right away,” Detroit centre Kris Draper said. “When we get momentum, we have to figure out a way to keep it.”
That prompted the crowd to give the Predators a standing, towel-waving ovation throughout a timeout midway through the period.
Datsyuk scored off a pass from Tomas Holmstrom at 3:23 to pull Detroit within 3-2. But Nashville, the NHL’s third-best penalty killers in the regular season, protected that margin with the fans on their feet for the final minutes and Ellis stopping 11 shots in the third.
“We’re starting to believe in ourselves a little more,” Ellis said.
Notes: Nashville was the NHL’s third-best team at finishing off a win when leading after two periods (26-1-1), and the Predators also went 34-6-4 when scoring first and 24-4-2 when leading after the first period. … This was the 100th playoff game for Nashville captain Jason Arnott. … Erat and Radulov each have four points in three straight games. … Datsyuk has five points (three goals, 2 assists) in this series and 14 playoff goals in his career. … Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen and his wife, Andrea Conte and a season-ticket holder herself, dropped the ceremonial puck to start the game.