- Craig Custance
- 0 Shares
DETROIT -- Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock held the printed box score in his hands, shaking it slightly as he drove home his point.
Everything on the stat sheet suggested a lopsided Red Wings win. They outshot the Nashville Predators 41-17. They outhit them 28-20. They were dominant in the faceoff circle, winning 58 percent of their draws. They drew seven penalties and, until the third period, played a pretty mistake-free game.
And it wasn't just the stats that suggested dominance. They passed the eye test. They completely outplayed the Predators for most of Game 4, much like they did in Game 3.
"You can't keep playing like this, have the puck all the time and the other team keep beating you," Babcock said. "I wouldn't think, anyway."
But it's happening, and Predators goalie Pekka Rinne, who made 40 saves, is a monumental reason for that. When the Predators landed in Detroit on Saturday, they had never beaten the Red Wings in a playoff game at Joe Louis Arena. When they left, following a 3-1 win in Game 4, they had two wins and a 3-1 series lead, putting the Red Wings on the brink of their first opening-round series loss since 2006.
"To get the win when we didn't play our best, we definitely got away with one tonight," said defenseman Kevin Klein, who scored his second goal of the series, a game winner on an incredible pass from Martin Erat.
After two ugly periods, captain Shea Weber said the message in the Nashville dressing room was about opportunity. The Preds knew they hadn't played their best hockey of the series yet they were entering the third period tied with the Red Wings.
The Predators were determined not to let their goalie's incredible effort disappear into a Red Wings win that evened the series.
"We knew we had a chance to win," Weber said, and then he relayed the message that was discussed among the Predators. "We've got to be better to help Pekka out and help ourselves out."
When you look at the third period and see who dug deep and found a way to win, it was the guys who had been through the battles before in Nashville who raised their game the most. It was David Legwand, the Predators' first-ever draft pick in 1998, scoring a pair of third-period goals after an otherwise inconsistent two games in his hometown. One of the goals actually counted, when he snapped the puck away from Danny Cleary to beat Jimmy Howard. The other didn't, a whistle blown before Legwand beat Howard from a shot behind the goal line. It was a moment that looked like a huge break for the Red Wings.
Weber, Ryan Suter and Klein, a trio of defensemen selected together in 2003, were outstanding. The next time assistant GM Paul Fenton, who runs Nashville's drafts, interviews for a GM opening, he might want to just hand over a printout of that draft and call it a day.
And then there was Erat, a Predator since 2001. All game it looked like the Predators were patiently waiting for the Red Wings to make a crucial mistake and it was Erat who finally drew it out of them. On a breakaway, he skated in on Howard and three Red Wings -- Nicklas Lidstrom, Ian White and Jiri Hudler -- collapsed to defend him. The entire time Erat was watching Howard, who skated way out to stop his shot.
At the right moment, he found a wide-open Klein driving down the middle of the ice and Klein converted the easiest playoff goal he will ever score. If he hadn't been there, the puck would have found a wide-open Patric Hornqvist, who would have done the same. It was the game winner.
"If I missed that one, the boys would have been pretty upset with me," Klein said. "Marty pretty much drew the whole rink to him. Marty did all the work; I cleaned it up."
This Predators franchise has been through adversity when it looked like they were on the verge of breaking through. They should have beaten the Blackhawks in the year Chicago won the Stanley Cup, but didn't know how to finish. They gave the Canucks a run last season in the playoffs but couldn't match their talent. Especially Ryan Kesler.
It's those playoff disappointments that teach you how to win games like Game 4.
"You know it's not about how you play the game, it's how you finish," Erat said.
And he believes this team now knows how to finish -- games and a playoff series.
"For sure. For sure," he said. "I've been here for a long time. We went through the good times and rough times. Right now, we learned from the past and guys know what to do on the ice the last couple minutes in the game."
On the other bench, there's a team that also knows how to win games. They didn't show it Tuesday night, but just ask the Sharks how tough the Red Wings are to close out. It took San Jose seven games to beat a Detroit team that they jumped out to a 3-0 series lead on in the second round last year.
If the Predators thought the barrage of shots the Red Wings produced in the first two periods, outshooting Nashville 28-10, was impressive, it could easily be eclipsed in Friday's Game 5 in Nashville. There's too much pride. Too much to play for. Tuesday night could end up being Nicklas Lidstrom's final home game in Detroit if he chooses to retire this summer and if Nashville eliminates Detroit on Friday. You think the Red Wings want to send their captain out like that?
"It's a long way from over," Weber said.
The Predators know this. That's what now makes them so dangerous.