It was a turnaround so unlikely and so heart-wrenching that Barry Trotz was spinning as hard as ever when it was finished.
The Nashville Predators’ coach did everything he could to paint his team’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday afternoon as another positive step toward the team’s sixth playoff appearance rather than a step back, one that effectively cost them any chance at their first division title.
Perception can be distorted any way one likes. The fact is that the Predators had a three-goal lead early in the second period and let it get away from them before a sellout crowd of 17,113 at Bridgestone Arena.
“We had a three-goal lead for what, two minutes, three minutes?” Trotz said. “It didn’t feel like we had a three-goal lead and then just gave it away. They were right back in the game.
“… They were throwing pucks to the net. The [first] two goals they got were not dangerous plays. They were chaotic-type plays that ended up in the net. … We had a game that we wanted the two points and we got one — that’s the disheartening thing.”
To be precise, it was just exactly 2:12 after Sergei Kostitsyn made it 3-0, that the margin was reduced to 3-2. Detroit then scored the only goal of the third period, a period Trotz contended his team dominated, and got the game-winner on Daniel Cleary’s tip from in front of the net at 2:58 of the overtime period.
“Everybody knew how important the game was for both teams,” Cleary said. “… Certainly, down 3-0 we had a lot of guys who played very well physically and responded well. It was good to see.”
It was the most extreme example yet of what has become all too common of late for a team that lost its grip on last year’s playoff series with Chicago when it failed to hold a third-period lead in Game 5.
Just two days earlier, the Colorado Avalanche came back from 3-0 down and made it 3-2 before the Predators held on. On Tuesday, a 1-0 lead early in the third against Vancouver became a 3-1 defeat. There also was the 5-1 lead over Anaheim in the third on March 24 that turned into a down-to-the-wire 5-4 nail-biter.
“You have to realize there’s going to be huge momentum shifts and [Saturday] there were,” Trotz said. “There were in the first, there was huge ones in the second. Then in the third, they get a goal and you think you’re going to be under siege. Well, we had them under siege the whole third period, for the most part.
“We were doing a lot of good things.”
Nashville did score its first two goals on the power play (one a 5-on-3), just the eighth time this season that it has gotten more than one with the man-advantage. Of course, it had plenty of chances. Its eight power-play opportunities were a season-high.
The Predators also reduced to one the number of teams currently outside the top eight in the Western Conference standings that still can catch them. That team is Dallas, which is eight points back with five games to play.
“We were feeling great halfway through,” center Mike Fisher said. “They’re obviously a very good team. They’re not going to sit back. They’re going to make a push.
“That was definitely a frustrating one to lose that way. The bright side is we got a point and they’re all important right now.”
• The last time the Predators and Red Wings played (March 19), Shane O’Brien and Todd Bertuzzi nearly fought. This time they actually did — twice.
“He must have had it on his mind, because [on the first] I made a pass up the ice and he came from my blind side and before I knew it he was chucking and I was ducking,” O’Brien said. “The second time I told him I thought he jumped me a little bit … and I wanted to let him know if you do that I’m going to come right back at you. He answered the bell and that was about it.”
• For the second straight meeting, Detroit had a goal waved off because forward Tomas Holmstrom was called for goaltender interference.
In this case, it would have given the Red Wings a 1-0 lead.
“It was the right call,” Trotz said. “He went right into Pekka [Rinne] … and throws his elbow into Pekka’s head. “
• Kostitsyn became the first Nashville player to score 20 goals this season. The 24-year-old had 25 total in 155 games with Montreal before he was traded to Nashville.
The Predators have had at least one player with at least 20 (twice the team leader finished with exactly 20) in every season.
• The television broadcasts of the next two games (Tuesday against Atlanta and Friday against Columbus) have been moved from Fox Sports-Tennessee to SportSouth (Comcast Chs. 26 and 284) in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville and Tri-Cities.