By Michael Caples –
DETROIT – When Mike Babcock was asked if he thought the difference in Game 4 was the opposition’s goaltender, because that is what it seemed, the Wings coach didn’t need to elaborate when he said, “I agree.”
Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne stopped 40 of 41 shots in Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals match-up between the Red Wings and Predators. He held the Wings scoreless through the first 40 minutes, while Detroit outshot the visiting Predators 28-10. And at the end of the night, he was the main reason why the Predators leave the Joe with a 3-1 win, and a commanding 3-1 series lead.
“Well we’d like to score, obviously,” Babcock said. “I thought their goaltender was good, and I don’t think it was their plan to play in their zone as much as they did, I mean, let’s be honest. They hung in there but we made two mistakes.”
The two mistakes loomed large for the Wings. Just moments after Detroit native’s David Legwand had a goal disallowed because the whistle blew before it crossed the goal line, Gabriel Bourque scored while left uncovered in front of the Detroit goal.
Jiri Hudler was able to respond with a tip-in goal for the Wings less than two minutes later, but then, a mistake on coverage resulted in the game-winning goal for Nashville.
Near the 6-minute mark of the third period, Martin Erat rushed the puck into the Red Wings’ zone, and skated towards the left of the Detroit goal. The Nashville forward managed to draw coverage from four different Red Wings – Jiri Hudler, Nicklas Lidstrom, Ian White, and goaltender Jimmy Howard – which left defenseman Kevin Kline all alone in front of the Detroit goal for an easy shot into an empty net.
“We got a break on the goal, I don’t know who threw it in there but to me that was a goal, we got a break on that,” Babcock said, referring to Legwand’s disallowed goal. “The next play we lose our guy in the d-zone, and then we all chased the puck on a misread on a nothing play and that’s the two goals. I think their power-play goal at the end was just us trying to get down the ice so we could try to score so we get one away.”
Legwand ended up finding his way onto the scoresheet anyways; the former Whalers star scored the Predators’ final goal when he poked the puck away from Dan Cleary and past Jimmy Howard with one swing.
Nashville coach Barry Trotz said he expected an early surge from the home team in the pivotal Game 4. The Wings out-shot the Predators 11-7 in the first period, and then an astounding 17-3 in the second. Trotz credited his goaltender for helping his team through the Red Wings’ onslaught.
“Yep, he was good,” Trotz said. “I thought in the first, you knew, obviously Detroit is going to come out and we’re gonna have to weather out some storms early. I mean, they’ve got a lot of guys in their locker room, you know, big games and they will be ready and they were.”
Lansing native Drew Miller said the Red Wings did all the right things to start the game, they just couldn’t crack Rinne.
“It’s not the way we wanted it to go, but I thought we had some good pressure on them all game,” Miller said. “We out-shot them, by a large margin, and we just have to find a way to score.”
Now, The Red Wings are on the brink of being eliminated from the NHL playoffs in the first round for the first time since 2006. Captain Nicklas Lidstrom said he can’t remember the last time it felt like everything was going the opposition’s way to this extent.
“I can’t think of one right now, but that’s playoff hockey,” Lidstrom said. “Sometimes that happens in the playoffs, where you’re not getting the bounces or you think you’ve had enough chances to win, but you didn’t win. And that’s the bottom line, we didn’t win the game.”