NASHVILLE – With a 2-1 win in Game 5, the Nashville Predators became the first team to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Their first playoff series win over Detroit is a signal that times have changed in Nashville.
It’s a result the Predators have found themselves on the short end of in the past.
In 2004 and 2008, the Red Wings were heavy favorites going into series against the eighth-seeded Predators at the time. Barry Trotz’s club gave the Presidents’ Trophy winners their best punch in both postseasons, but Detroit’s counter punch was too strong.
Fast forward four years.
The Predators saw Detroit’s best effort. Mike Babcock may have called his team’s Game Five performance the “worst of the series,” but the Predators had to consistently fend off a desperate Red Wings team throughout the series. And they did so successfully in three straight games, including twice in the vaunted Joe Louis Arena to finish off a hard-fought series.
Similar playoff script, different outcome.
“It hasn’t sunk in,” Trotz said after last night’s series-clinching win. “We used to look up to Detroit, feeling that we were a little inferior in terms of talent or whatever it may be. We were maybe a little bit in awe of them. I think we’ve grown to the point where we have a great respect for the Detroit Red Wings, but we’re not in awe of them.
“That’s the stepping stone that we’ve taken.”
Detroit has always been Nashville’s measuring stick, as well as the gold standard in the Western Conference and NHL. The Predators could never get over that hump, whether it was on the ice, in the standings, or in the playoffs. They just could not beat Detroit when it mattered.
Not much has really separated the two teams in recent years, especially in their previous playoff matchups. Fourteen of their 17 meetings in the ‘second season’ have been decided by two goals or less.
The Predators competed with the Red Wings in 2006 and 2007 for the division titles, but the old guard would always tend to beat the inexperienced whenever David had the chance to knock down Goliath.
Nothing could go right for the Predators in what has, up to this point, been considered a one-sided rivalry. The most memorable example came when Nicklas Lidstrom scored a fluke goal from center ice to seal their first-round series in 2008.
But the shoe was on the other foot in this latest chapter of what could now be considered a legitimate rivalry.
Paul Gaustad’s goal in Game One bounced in off a Detroit defenseman’s skate. Kevin Klein’s clutch shot block in Game Three saved a one-goal lead in the third period. Alexander Radulov’s pass to Gabriel Bourque ricocheted off a Detroit player’s skate, which resulted in Bourque scoring a big goal in Game Four.
Everything that may have gone wrong four or eight years ago against the Red Wings finally went right here in 2012 for the Predators, who also finished ahead of the Red Wings in the standings this season for the first time in franchise history.
“They have such a great team, great organization with a lot of history with a lot of success,” Rinne said of beating Detroit. “It was a great chance for us to play against the Detroit Red Wings and beat them in five games.”
In past years, the Predators may have viewed beating Detroit in the playoffs as a crowning achievement. Not now, and that’s a part of this postseason being ‘different’ in Music City.
The post-game locker room last night was slightly joyous, yet more reserved than one would assume, just moments after one of the biggest wins in the franchise’s history.
“You can’t get too high. A lot of teams win in the first round,” Ryan Suter said. “We have to stay level-headed and be ready to show up for work next week.”
Things have changed in Nashville. Everything is viewed in the bigger picture. Taking down Detroit in the playoffs is nice for the franchise and a moment that has been a long time coming – but in the grand scheme of things it’s just another stepping stone along the way.
“It’s not time to celebrate; it’s only the first round,” Alexander Radulov said. “Yeah, we’re happy that we beat Detroit, but everyone in this locker room wants to go forward and win more.”
Photo credit: Getty Images