Canucks-Predators Preview

In Nashville, it’s dubbed the Predator Way: Work hard, scrap,

defend at all costs and score just enough timely goals to win.

Nashville certainly isn’t changing its ways in the Western

Conference semifinals.

”We’re OK with the hard stuff,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz

said Monday after practice. ”If anybody’s been around us … we

haven’t done anything easy ever. The harder it gets, it might sound

sick, but we get really good when it gets hard. Great resiliency,

and I expect us to up our compete level and conviction level even

higher.”

The Predators evened up their series with Vancouver at 1-1 by

pushing the Canucks into double overtime before winning 2-1

Saturday night. Only three goals have been scored in the first two

games, and the Canucks are bracing for more of the same Tuesday

night for Game 3.

These teams feature two of the three Vezina Trophy finalists;

Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo and Pekka Rinne of Nashville.

Vancouver may scored more goals in the regular season than anyone

in the NHL, but the Canucks also held opponents to a league-fewest

185 goals. Nashville was third giving up 194.

Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said both teams also play very

well without the puck.

”There’s not a lot of room. There’s not a lot of time out there

to make plays, and he’s a good goaltender. You’ve got to give him

credit. I didn’t expect coming into this these would be

high-scoring games, and they haven’t been so far,” he said.

Scratching and clawing for a single goal or two plays right into

the Predators’ comfort zone. During the regular season, it seemed

as if Nashville was more comfortable pushing a game to overtime to

reach the shootout. Nashville had 19 overtime games, winning six in

shootouts with its first win in extra time coming March 17 against

Boston.

Rinne said the Predators are pretty comfortable with as many

tight games as they play during the regular season. In this

postseason, the Predators have won their last two overtime games in

the playoffs after losing the first three in franchise history.

”It’s a strength of this team,” Rinne said. We don’t panic

when we are one goal down or it’s a tie game. We have a lot of

experience from that kind of game.”

These teams scored 14 goals combined in four regular season

games. In this series, Rinne’s save percentage is .958 compared to

Luongo at .970. Luongo stopped 44 shots in the double overtime

loss, the most Nashville had ever taken in a playoff game.

So in a series where the tiniest mistake could turn into the

game-winner, it’s a pressure both goalies are welcoming even as

both teams talk of stacking more bodies in front of the net. To

Luongo, it’s fun. If he does have some tips for his teammates on

how to beat Rinne, it’s take advantage when the 6-foot-5 Finn goes

down to block a shot.

”We’ve had a few occasions where we’ve had Pekka down and out.

That’s where we’ve got to bury the chances. he might make the first

save. If we get him out of position, we have to make sure we really

bear down on those chances and make sure he doesn’t get an arm or a

leg or a stick on it,” Luongo said.

Some line changes may be coming to revive the Canucks’

high-scoring offense. Alex Burrows may be moving back onto the line

with Henrik and Daniel Sedin. Neither of the Sedins have scored in

this series, while Burrows has four goals in four games since being

taken off their line. Burrows scored the Canucks’ lone goal

Saturday night short-handed.

Vigneault cautioned against reading into the combinations he had

in practice Monday.

”If I have to play with the twins, best job in hockey right

there playing with the two best in the NHL,” Burrows said. ”Just

keep giving them the puck and do what I do, go to the net and be

ready for those … passes.”

Vancouver defenseman Sami Salo traveled with the Canucks and

practiced Monday. Vigneault said Salo is day to day since suffering

an undisclosed injury in Game 6 of the opening series with

Chicago.

Tuesday night will bring another raucous, sellout crowd a year

after the Bridgestone Arena flooded along with parts of downtown

Nashville. This series will give Canada a close look at a town long

derided for not deserving a hockey team. The Predators believe

their passionate fans will change that perception.

”I can’t wait personally,” Predators forward Jerred Smithson

said. ”It’s so much fun. This city’s going crazy I can only

imagine what the fans are going to be like. … We’re excited to

get back home.”