The Nashville Predators never have had it so good.
Four games into their Western Conference quarterfinal series with the Detroit Red Wings, they have three wins. That means with a victory in Game 5 Friday (7 p.m., Bridgestone Arena) they can eliminate they team they have pursued from their earliest days and reach the second round of the postseason for the second time.
Coach Barry Trotz says they can be even better.
“We haven’t played our best yet,” he said Wednesday. “That’s the exciting thing about it. We have played very, very well at times. We’ve played well in segments of the game and other times we haven’t played as well.
“To me, we can amp that up and the great thing is the group thinks we can amp that up as well. We’re looking to find our real consistent play as a team right now.”
Whatever irregularities exist within the course of play, the results have been remarkably consistent.
Nashville has scored three goals in all three of its victories and two in the one game it lost, Game 2 last Friday at home. Its shot total was identical in the first two contests and has varied by no more than five from game-to-game whereas the difference in Detroit’s shot totals from the second and third games was 26.
Virtually everybody has contributed offense at some point. Ten different players have multiple points and only two have a minus rating.
Then, of course, there has been goalie Pekka Rinne. As of the start of play Wednesday, no netminder had faced more shots (138) or made more saves (130) thus far in the postseason than Rinne, who stopped at least 40 in the last two games — both Nashville victories — at Joe Louis Arena.
“I think Pekka and timely goals [are the difference in the series],” center David Legwand said. [Tuesday] night we got outplayed the first two periods and hung around. We just hung around and Pekka kept us in it and we came up big in the third period.
“That’s fortunate for us and we’re OK with that.”
They are not, however, OK with making this series any longer than necessary.
The opportunity to end it in five games, which would be a first in franchise history, is one they want to seize, if at all possible.
“You know if you lose Game 5 then all of the sudden you end up back in Detroit with Game 6 and then anything can happen,” defenseman Kevin Klein, one of the early heroes, said. “Right now, our whole focus is on coming out as strong as possible Friday night, trying to do the things, trying to do the things we didn’t do in Game 4, certainly through the first two periods, and try to take a little pressure off Pekks.
“I think we’ll be better.”
As recently as 2008 the Red Wings were the NHL’s best — the Stanley Cup champions. They started the playoffs that year with a six-game victory over Nashville.
Last season, they lost the first three games of their second-round series against the San Jose Sharks, but won the next three and forced Game 7, which they lost.
“We have a lot of respect for the Detroit Red Wings and their team and all that,” Trotz said. “It’s going to be about how we respond. We have to bring our ‘A’ game to the next level.
“… This will be the hardest thing we have to do in terms of effort, detail and commitment, to get the fourth win in this series.”
• Defenseman Hal Gill skated on his own Wednesday, which was a day off for the bulk of the team, but there still was no word on when the veteran defenseman would play for the first time this postseason.
“He’s feeling better every day,” Trotz said. “He’s in that day-to-day mode right now. Do I expect him on Friday? I really can’t answer that. That will be a better question for me Friday morning than it is today. He’s making good, solid progress right now. He’s tracking very, very well for us right now."
• Josh Shalla, a fourth-round pick (94th overall) in last year’s draft, signed with Nashville and was assigned to Milwaukee (AHL), which is set to begin its playoffs. He will be play under an amateur tryout agreement for the remainder of this season.
The 6-foot-3, 203-pound left wing scored 40 goals each of the last two seasons for the Saginaw Spirit and finished his amateur career as that team’s all-time leader in goals with 133.