There were many positives for both the Nashville Predators and Detroit Red Wings in Game 1 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal, as the Preds struck first with a 3-2 win. Of course, with such a close score and emotions running high, there were also some first-game mistakes that both squads will need to fix to improve their result next game.
Nashville's three goals did not come from the usual suspects: Alexander Radulov, Shea Weber, David Legwand or Patric Hornqvist. Instead, rookie Gabriel Bourque scored two big goals to put Nashville up with a lead they'd never relinquish, and Paul Gaustad earned his first goal as a Predator to open the game's scoring. It certainly helps the Preds to get goals from more than their main sources, and with their ability to shut down opposing teams' offenses, that ability can take them a long way should it continue.
Gaustad not only scored a huge goal to set the tone of the game for Nashville, but he won 60 percent of his faceoffs, including 63 percent of 16 faceoffs in the defensive zone. Those wins were huge in keeping the puck away from the Red Wings, especially as Gaustad won two big faceoffs in the final minute of play.
Pekka Rinne's performance in net was typically fantastic. He scrambled a bit, facing 37 shots and seeing a bit too many Wings right at his crease, but he remained strong and calm, stopping a few huge opportunities, especially late in the game after Tomas Holmstrom made it a one-goal game. If Rinne remains strong in goal, which is highly likely, the Predators have a good chance to build on their series lead.
Coming into the playoffs with the top-ranked power play, the Preds received six Game 1 opportunities to prove to audiences why that was the case. Yet whether the reason was little too much hesitation down low from players like Mike Fisher, or not enough initiative from their quarterbacks, Ryan Suter and Weber, Nashville failed to score with the man advantage, and it made this game much closer than it needed to be.
On the flip side, Nashville gave Detroit four power plays in total and committed four consecutive infractions within the last 5:30 of the game. If the Predators are going to show they are not phased by the Red Wings' experience, they will need to show much more composure.
Albeit, the game may have been a bit over-officiated for the two most disciplined regular season clubs, but the referees were a bit vindicated when the emotion spilled over at the final buzzer.Weber received a hit-from-behind courtesy of Henrik Zetterberg, to which the Predator retaliated by slamming Zetterberg's head into the glass.
A two-minute roughing penalty was handed out with no time left, but it might get a look from Brendan Shanahan and could cost Weber a game. Game 2 without Weber would be the ideal opportunity for Detroit to steal a game in Nashville.
While Detroit was unable to win with their power play, the Red Wings were able to score twice with the man advantage, despite their below-average numbers in the regular season. As the game went on, the Wings moved the puck better with each man advantage to help generate the 37 shots on net. The power play became extra handy as Holmstrom scored with 2:57 left in the game to bring the deficit to one goal. If Detroit keeps up the improved power play, it might be able to steal a game on the road or really put things away at home.
Just as Rinne was a positive for the Preds, Jimmy Howard was also solid the entire game. He, too, made huge saves, especially on a 5-on-3 situation in the last few minutes of the first period. He certainly did what he could to keep the Wings in this game and if this continues, the Wings can build on the improvements from the power play and the rest of their offense.
Darren Helm left the game early on and never returned as his forearm was sliced by Radulov's skate. Helm missed the last 10 games of the regular season already, and his return in Game 1 the Wings some much needed forward depth. Well, for the three minutes of ice time he saw, at least. Helm was later taken to the hospital after the game. While it is uncertain how much time Helm will be out, his absence will certainly be felt by the club.
Ultimately, the biggest negative for Detroit was the inability to take advantage of several Nashville mistakes. As the road team in a series, the Wings can't allow their opponent to make mistakes without paying for them. The Red Wings did that on Wednesday night, and as a result, trail the series, 1-0.