To many, it seemed like the series was over. Chicago had a 3-1 series lead following an emotional triple overtime game four on Tuesday night. On Thursday night, the Nashville Predators proved they still have plenty of bite left in them as they routed the Blackhawks 5-2 to force a game six on Saturday. The win was the first win in franchise history when the team was on the brink of elimination.
“It was just a great effort,” said goaltender Pekka Rinne. “It tells a lot about this team. We needed that win. I mean, obviously our backs are still against the wall, but it was a huge win for us. I’m just happy with how we played tonight, and it’s fun to play at home too.”
For the first two periods, the teams exchanged multiple chances, but the game stayed tied at one until the third period when the Predators poured it on.
“It was a tight game for 40 minutes or so,” said Viktor Stalberg. “Pekka made some unbelievable saves to keep us in it early on. Hard-fought game, yes. It’s tight games every single night. We got some momentum there and got a couple of quick ones.”
Nashville has played strong for all but just a few periods in this series. The pace has been fast in each game, but the Predators kept chipping away to force opportunities until they finally cracked Chicago goaltender Scott Darling.
“Tonight, we were set for having to do more than getting ready for that battle down the stretch,” said head coach Peter Laviolette. “We were trying to do the right things and when you are up two to one in the game, your back is against the wall, but it happened right away. I do not think that was an indication of the game, it was another fast paced game and we were able to capture a little bit of offense in a short period of time.”
The Predators have been physical throughout the entire series. One player that has stood out for his physical play and hard forechecking is Viktor Stalberg. Stalberg’s play has been huge in forcing opposing players into making bad decisions. Thursday night, the Predators tallied 36 hits compared to 16 for the Blackhawks. Stalberg had the team lead with five hits in the game.
“I think that’s been the main focus here is to keep using my assets,” said Stalberg when asked about his speed and hitting. “I think we needed some guys to be more physical especially coming into playoffs, and I’m going to try to do as much as I can out there with what I’ve got. Our line played strong against Toews’ line tonight and didn’t really give them much.”
Whenever the Predators have played well physically, they have forced Chicago off their game. Nashville has adjusted well to the Blackhawks each game, and Thursday night, shoved it down their throat.
“They’re a good team,” said Stalberg on Chicago. “They’re fast and any time we can bump and slow them it helps our cause out. We try to stay physical and keep playing with a fast pace as we’ve been doing. We’re excited to get back to Chicago for game six.”
As with each home game in this series, the Nashville faithful have been loud. When the onslaught of goals came in the third period, including a hat trick from rookie sensation Filip Forsberg scored the first hat trick in Predators post season history, the crowd erupted.
“It was awesome,” said Stalberg on the crowd. “I looked over at Ribeiro at the end there like, ‘look at this, man, it’s pretty crazy.’ Crowd has been awesome, so we’re going to do everything we to force a game seven at home.”
In the playoffs, games are every other night. After a quick celebration, Nashville still has their backs against the wall in another in or go home scenario.
“I think we just let this one go here and enjoy it for a few minutes,” said Stalberg. “We’ll rest up and get some fluids and then reset. We’ve done a great job at resetting every game like it’s just one game.”
View Peter Laviolette’s post game press conference:
Photo credit: Christina McCullough