Across town, the San Jose Sharks held a full practice at their training complex. After taking charge of Game 3 with physical punishment and a frenetic pace, the Sharks were determined to keep their edge while the Predators gathered themselves for another attack in a playoff series that’s been every bit as good as these opponents’ records.
“I want to make sure our guys understand there’s a lot of work ahead of us,” San Jose coach Ron Wilson said one day after his club outshot Nashville 41-20 in a 3-1 victory.
The Sharks host Nashville in Game 4 on Wednesday night with a 2-1 lead before the clubs return to Tennessee. With the 13,114-kilometre trip involved with every game from here on out, Nashville coach Barry Trotz wanted to conserve his club’s energy after the Predators’ sixth straight road playoff loss.
“We didn’t skate the way we could,” Trotz said. “We stood around and watched more than participated, and that’s the essence of where it stands.”
But few NHL clubs can match the Predators’ skill, size and persistence. Nashville excelled in recovering from tough defeats during the regular season, and its veteran-laden roster knows what’s expected in Game 4.
“We realize we didn’t play our best game,” Nashville’s Kimmo Timonen said. “We lost our edge, and we’ve got to get it back tomorrow.
“We had a lead and let them get back in the game, get their crowd going.”
After chasing the Sharks deep into their zone and receiving countless hits over the first two periods, the Predators appeared exhausted by the third. Nashville’s strange parade to the locker room didn’t help: Peter Forsberg and Paul Kariya were among several Predators who briefly left with equipment problems, while Martin Erat was hurt.
“It was unbelievable,” Trotz said of his club’s run of bad luck. “We had skate problems.
“We had guys nicked up. Every time I looked down the bench, it seemed like there was a guy missing from every line.”
The Predators won’t decide until Wednesday morning whether forward Erat will play. Erat apparently injured his right leg in a collision with Mike Grier in Game 3, but will skate Wednesday morning to determine whether he can play.
Nashville also will have rookie forward Alexander Radulov, who scored three goals in the series’ first two games, but was suspended for Game 3 after hitting Steve Bernier from behind.
The Sharks won’t change their game plan no matter who’s on the ice for Nashville. After playing the grinding, aggressive game that Wilson loves in Game 3, they’ve seen how a balanced team effort is almost impossible to overcome – even for the Predators, one of the league’s elite clubs.
“We’ve got four lines that we feel can score goals and be responsible defensively,” said Craig Rivet, who leads NHL defencemen with four playoff points. “When you play solid defence, it opens up chances on the other end. It’s the first time in my career I’ve played on a team as skilled as this, and it’s pretty fun.”
Depth and experience were the Sharks’ primary targets during the off-season when they landed forwards Grier and Curtis Brown. The duo has transformed San Jose’s game plan with superb penalty-killing and grinding efforts on the third line, freeing up Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to take charge offensively.
But the Sharks’ young players took a lead role along with the newcomers when the club was behind 1-0 midway through Game 3. Milan Michalek tipped home Rivet’s shot for San Jose’s first goal, and Ryane Clowe put the Sharks ahead on a sharp pass from rookie defenceman Matt Carle.
“We just stayed patient,” Carle said. “We didn’t get rattled or get down on ourselves when we fell behind.
“We just kept taking shots, and we kind of knew that they would eventually go in.”