NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Nashville Predators are young, deep and talented. They’re also the NHL’s first team to advance this post-season.
The Predators moved on to the Western Conference semifinals by topping Detroit with a 2-1 victory Friday night to win the series in five games.
David Legwand, a native of the Detroit area, scored the game-winning goal 13 seconds into the third period, and goalie Pekka Rinne made that stand up the final 19 minutes.
“It’s huge,” Rinne said of beating the Red Wings. “They have such a great team, great organization with a lot of history with a lot of success. It was a great chance for us to play against the Detroit Red Wings and beat them in five games. It’s great. It tells something about this team. We have a lot of talent in this locker room, and (we’re) having a great time playing right now.”
The Predators now get several days off. They could face third-seeded Phoenix in the second round. The Coyotes lead Chicago 3-1 in that series.
“It’s not time to celebrate,” Predators forward Alexander Radulov said. “I mean it’s only the first round.”
This is the second straight post-season the Predators have won the opening series, but beating Detroit makes it even sweeter.
The fourth-seeded Predators finished ahead of their Central Division rival for the first time in the regular season, and now they have their first series win over the Red Wings in their third try. Nashville also handed Detroit its earliest post-season departure since a six-game, first-round loss to Edmonton in 2006.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock said the Predators were deeper than his team. He also noted the Red Wings now have followed being ousted in the second round in 2010 and 2011 by San Jose by going out even earlier this time.
“One thing about it,” Babcock said. “We’re going to have a lot of time to figure things out.”
Legwand also added an assist, and Radulov 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.
The Predators won the final three by allowing a total of four goals. They also outshot and outhit the older Red Wings in Game 5. The winning goal came from Nashville’s first draft pick at No. 2 overall in 1998 as Legwand scored on a wrister off assists from Gabriel Bourque and Radulov.
“It’s special obviously to beat those guys,” Legwand said. “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.”
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.
“We showed a lot of confidence that we were going to win that hockey game,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said.
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 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.
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.
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, has four points in his first post-season. … Country singer Martina McBride joined the house band at the first intermission. … Lidstrom, Detroit’s leader in post-season points and games played, did not notch a point in the series.