However, one moment early in the game had the potential to completely change the complexion of the game.
At 5:36 of the first period, Predators defenseman Matt Irwin tried to go after Blues forward Scottie Upshall cutting through the middle of the ice. Irwin missed his chance at a big open-ice hit, but Upshall still leaped in the air in the vicinity of Irwin’s stick and fell to the ice. That was enough to draw a tripping minor on Irwin, much to the chagrin of the crowd and Predators head coach Peter Laviolette.
“I don’t know exactly what happened,” Irwin said of the penalty. “I just saw him cut through the middle and tried to get a lick on him. The ref made a call. I don’t know really what else to say. He saw a penalty so it is what it is.”
— Mark Harris (@MCHisTweeting) April 30, 2017
Following a Game Two in which the Predators gave the Blues five power plays, including one five minute major power play, that early penalty could have made this game feel like déja vu all over again.
But, that’s not what happened.
Instead, the Predators put together an incredible kill, limiting the Blues to just one shot on goal. Then, five minutes after Irwin’s penalty, Ryan Ellis buried a slap shot from the point to give Nashville the lead.
That kind of response from early adversity is just par for the course, according to P.K. Subban.
“One thing is for sure, when we go down a man, we feel confident that we can kill a penalty,” he said. “You have to have that mindset and that attitude. We’ve done a pretty good job of it this series and for the playoffs. Like I said, in round one, we faced some really good players, good offensive players. I thought we did a good job of trying to limit their opportunities. They’re going to get their looks, and when they do, that’s why we have Pekka and Saros there to shut the door.”
While this game had the physical feel of Game Two, the penalty differential was completely flipped. A total of 64 hits were thrown in this game, yet the Blues took a total of six penalties to Nashville’s three. That lopsided penalty count could have definitely swung in the opposite direction had the early penalty kill gone another way.
Laviolette did not put too much importance on the penalty in the grand scheme of things, but thought the moment was crucial at the time.
“It was a good kill for us,” Laviolette said. “We just had to focus on our game and keep playing. At the time, when it’s that early in the game and we’re killing a penalty, I like the response.”
In such a physical game, it can be easy to get sucked into the emotions and energy of playoff hockey. The Blues seemed to be letting those moments get the best of them, as they got extra rough with Predators players on multiple occasions. Blues forward Ryan Reaves made a few football-style tackles throughout the game, including one on Irwin himself.
The Predators did not feed into the tomfoolery of this game and played with some ice in their veins. That’s been the way they’ve been all season, and Subban hasn’t let it go unnoticed.
“Just being on this team for a full year now, and seeing our team and the composure that we’ve shown so far this year and especially in the playoffs, it’s been unbelievable,” he said. “For me, I know that it’s great to see a team that can’t be penetrated, regardless of what happens on the ice. We’ve done a good job so far.”
That kind of attitude will come in handy as the series progresses. With the win, the Predators have gone up 2-1 in the series and can take a stranglehold with a Game Four win on Tuesday night. The Blues will undoubtedly come out angry, and considering the fact that two out of the first three games of this series saw 60+ hits in total, there could be some more extracurricular activity coming up.
For the Predators, however, they know they need to maintain their temper, stay focused and stay icy.
“We’ve been saying it throughout the whole postseason,” Irwin said. “It’s between-the-whistle hockey. You’ve got to be physical, you’ve got to hold your own and as soon as the whistle goes, you’ve just got to stop. You can’t get an extra shove in, it’s just going to get you in trouble.”
The Predators look to take a 3-1 lead in the second round on Tuesday night at Bridgestone Arena. Puck drop is scheduled for 8:30 PM central.