Down 3-1, Preds think they've found their playoff game
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nashville Predators think they have finally figured out the postseason.
They have one game left to prove it.
The Predators finally outshot the San Jose Sharks for the first time in their opening Western Conference series but still lost 5-4 on Thursday night. That leaves them on the verge of elimination, trailing 3-1 going into Game 5 in Nashville on Sunday night.
But they returned to Nashville on Friday agreeing that they found something in the third period, particularly the final 15 minutes, when they outshot the Sharks 14-3 and scored two late goals before falling short.
"I thought that we played regular-season hockey to that point," Nashville goalie Chris Mason said. "They've been playing playoff hockey, and we said, 'You know what? We've got nothing to lose.'"
The Predators have been their own worst enemy, giving Joe Thornton, Jonathan Cheechoo and Patrick Marleau opportunities on six five-on-threes in the first four games. It happened again Thursday night after Nashville took a 2-1 lead in the second period.
They gave up three goals, two by Marleau, in a six-minute span that included another five-on-three as they went to the penalty box seven times through two periods.
In the third, they picked up two more but actually showed the kind of intensity and playmaking the Sharks used in winning the last three games in this series.
"I know we've got another level," said left winger Scott Hartnell, who scored the last goal for Nashville in Game 4. "We showed it the last few minutes of that game, and I know we can do it. We've got to believe in each other and keep going."
Steve Sullivan, their second-leading scorer with 68 points in the regular season, finally got his first point of this postseason with an assist Thursday night. Marek Zidlicky, the Predators' top offensive defenseman with 49 points, played in Game 4 for his first action in 15 games after a separated shoulder.
Paul Kariya finally scored his first goal of these playoffs, and the Predators also got their first even-strength goal of the series on Shea Weber's goal in the second period. They beat Vesa Toskala twice more five-on-five in the third.
Still, the Sharks have outshot Nashville 135-102 in this series, scoring seven goals with at least a man advantage.
The series has been so lopsided that the Predators had approximately 1,800 tickets left for Game 5 after not selling out Game 2. The team had threatened to black out the game locally before deciding against that Friday afternoon, trying to rally fans to the box office.
Ron Wilson gave his Sharks the day off Friday. They planned to skate in San Jose before flying to Nashville on Saturday, and Wilson said closing out the series won't be easy.
"We're going to have our work cut out for us because of the way they finished," Wilson said.
The Predators didn't skate Friday after returning to Nashville late Friday afternoon. Trotz didn't discuss whether he will stick with his latest lineup after inserting Scottie Upshall and Vernon Fiddler in Game 4 for their first action while sitting Jordin Tootoo, Scot Nichol and Jerred Smithson.
"I thought our guys showed a lot of resolve in the third period, and I know they will continue to show resolve. This group will not give up, I know that," Trotz said after Game 4.
"We found out that we know how to beat this team, and we've just got to stay out of the box a little bit," he said.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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