Preds survive Game 1 but future is unclear

BY foxsports • April 12, 2012

His
team barely survived the absence of one of its top three defensemen,
the injured Hal Gill, on Wednesday in Game 1 of the Western Conference
quarterfinal series with Detroit.

If Trotz has a talisman, now
would be a good time to stroke it and hope he can conjure some positive
mojo, because the Preds are at risk of losing another, even more
important defenseman: All-Star captain Shea Weber.

The good news
is that the Preds won 3-2 for their first series lead in three
postseason meetings with Detroit, one of the NHL's perennial powers.

The
bad news is that Weber received a roughing penalty at the 20-minute
mark of the third period that could land him in the crosshairs of the
league's department of player safety. Replays show Weber, 6-foot-4 and
232 pounds, grabbing the head of Detroit center Henrik Zetterberg, one
of the Wings' most skilled players and much smaller than Weber at 5-11
and 195, and slamming it into the glass.

With the way the league
is attempting to police hits to the head and concussions becoming a
hot-button issue, Weber might need some luck to receive a pass on this
one.

The play came at the end of a wild series of events as
Nashville hung on to win. Up 3-1 late, thanks to two goals by rookie
Gabriel Bourque and one by checking center Paul Gaustad, the Preds saw
Detroit close to within 3-2 with 2:07 left in regulation on a power-play
goal by Tomas Holmstrom.

It was a penalty-riddled game with the
teams awarded a combined 14 power plays, the last coming with 22.9
seconds left when Nashville's Martin Erat went to the box for holding.

Desperate
to tie the game, Detroit pulled goalie Jimmy Howard, creating a 6-on-4.
As the final seconds ticked off for a Nashville victory, Weber and
Zetterberg tangled along the boards.

"That's them just trying to send a message that this is going to be a
tough, long series," Howard told FOX Sports
Detroit's John Keating. "We've got a veteran team here and they're not
going to respond to that sort of stuff."

When Weber was first asked about the incident all he would say was, "I don't know. You guys watched it."

Asked
what might have sparked the incident, Weber simply said, "It's
playoffs" — a rougher time of year when the competitive temperature gets
turned up in a big way.

Finally, he conceded that Zetterberg hit
him first in a manner that he did not take kindly to. Asked if he
thought he might be at risk of a suspension, Weber did not seem too
sure.

"I don't know," he said. "He hit me from behind, so we'll see. I don't know."

In answering questions about the play after the game, Trotz did his best to protect his player.

"Zetterberg hit him in the head first," Trotz said. "There wasn't much
there. I was watching the scrum right after that with (Todd) Bertuzzi
and Gaustad and Bertuzzi comes in with a big-time haymaker. I
watched the first one. I just think that Zetterberg was getting tired at
the end and Webs was there and the game was over."

The
only comment that Red Wings coach Mike Babcock had on the play was to
say that he viewed it from a distance and had yet to see it on replay.

Zetterberg
was not available to comment after the game and if he received an
injury as a result of the play, then the odds that Weber could get
suspended likely would go up. That’s a situation the Predators can’t
afford.

Weber is the Predators' best skater, a Norris Trophy
finalist last year as one of the league's top defensemen, and his
importance to his team cannot be understated. His 19 goals this season
tied for most by a defenseman and he finished in the top five in the NHL
in average time on ice at 26:09 per game. In Wednesday’s first period
alone Weber logged 11:07 of ice time. He finished the game playing
27:27.

The idea of playing Detroit without Weber and Gill, who has
a lower-body injury and is day-to-day, would be a nightmare scenario
for Nashville. On Wednesday, the Preds struggled to kill penalties —
precisely the reason why Nashville traded for Gill in February, as he
excels in that area — as Detroit connected on 2 of 8.

If Gill is
not healthy, it could meaning going with a lineup of six defensemen for
Nashville that would include two rookies, Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi, and
a third player, Jack Hillen, who made his postseason debut on
Wednesday. Nashville beefed up its lineup at the trading deadline
looking for players with experience for these situations. A suspension
could leave them with inexperience.

Trotz had better keep his fingers crossed.


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