The Detroit Red Wings have enough post-season experience to know any comeback starts with one win in a series where the first three games were decided by one goal.
The Red Wings are facing their earliest elimination from the playoffs since 2006. Edmonton sent Detroit home after six games; Nashville is trying to do it in five.
The Predators will look to advance for a second straight year when they host the Red Wings on Friday night. A loss could be Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom’s final game should the defenceman decide to call it quits this summer.
“It’s not time to get too frustrated,” Detroit centre Valtteri Filppula said Thursday.
These are the Red Wings after all, the team with the longest post-season streak in North American major professional sports at 21 straight seasons. This is the franchise with four Stanley Cups with six Western Conference titles and 32 series victories in that stretch. This season, the Red Wings set an NHL record winning 23 straight at home.
They can tap into their experience of just a year ago trailing San Jose 3-0 in the Western Conference semifinals. They won three straight to force a Game 7—a game Detroit lost 3-2.
“We just have to think positively,” Filppula said. “We hopefully still have a few more games to play. We just have to play through it, and hopefully the puck starts going in.”
Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard said the most important thing is to “outwill” the Predators.
“Our backs are against the wall,” Howard said. “We all know the circumstances if we lose we start our summer. I don’t think anybody wants that in this room.”
Solving Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne will be key. The Red Wings have outshot the Predators in all but one game, and they won that game despite a meagre 17 shots. Rinne has made at least 35 saves in Nashville’s three wins, becoming just the eighth goalie in the past 24 postseasons to post three games with 35 saves or more against the Red Wings.
“He catches everything, so we have to keep it away from his glove,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “But I don’t think we can tell our guys to stop shooting. We have to keep getting to the net as hard we as can.”
Babcock wants his Red Wings to play just as they did Game 4 on Tuesday night despite losing 3-1. He said the exceptions are the mistakes in their own zone and off the rush. He sees the Predators making lots of the same mistakes only to see Rinne cover up with the save.
“We just have to stay the course, I believe,” Babcock said.
Babcock also isn’t ready to talk about the possibility of not having Lidstrom back for a 21st NHL season, saying he’s heard the same story for years now. He said he’d be shocked if Lidstrom retires.
“The way I look at it is we have to win a game, so that’s our approach,” Babcock said.
Lidstrom said his health is good and he’ll handle a decision to return just as he has in recent years. He’ll take some time to figure out what he wants this summer, after the season ends. He also isn’t thinking about whether Friday night is his last game.
“I think I’ve learned from other years, I try to push that aside and just go out and try to play a real solid game and come out with a win,” Lidstrom said.
The pressure is on the Predators, whose first post-season series win came a year ago in six games over Anaheim. They lost their first two playoff series against their Central Division rival, though those losses came as the young franchise lost its first five Game 5s.
Nashville has won the last two, the first in an overtime win at Anaheim that allowed the Predators to return home and clinch that first series. They also avoided elimination winning Game 5 at Vancouver in the Western Conference semifinals to force a sixth game.
Rinne said it always seems to be the hardest game, especially against Detroit.
“They’ve been there and done that, and they have the experience and veteran players who have seen those kinds of situations and been through them,” Rinne said. “We have to really be prepared for it and treat it as game number one or any other game. The team that wants is more is going to get it.”
Nashville finished ahead of the Red Wings in the standings for the first time this season and just won its first two post-season games in Detroit in Games 3 and 4. Coach Barry Trotz believes he hasn’t seen Nashville play its best yet. He said Friday night will be the biggest game yet and hopes his Predators are ready.
“You are in survival mode,” Trotz said. “It is no different than someone who is surviving for their life type of thing. You have that fear factor. You have that desperation. You have that adrenaline factor that kicks in. It is one of those things that is hard. They have a great team and they have a great tradition. We have to match everything that they have and then some.