The MVP of game three? You, the fans.
A loud, raucous, sold out Bridgestone Arena was rocking in Nashville on Sunday. And for most of the game, so were the Predators. Nashville managed to defeat Anaheim 4-3 in game three of the best-of-seven series and pulled ahead 2-1 in the series.
The energy from the fans clearly pumped up the Predators from the get-go. Nashville came out aggressive in all facets of the game. Aggressive shooting, hitting, checking…they were sending a message and setting a tone for the game. And the message is clear: when Nashville is running on all cylinders, there is no question that they are the better team in this series.
This message was epitomized when, while the Ducks were on the power play at 3:31, Nashville managed to kill the penalty without allowing a single shot on goal. Beautiful. The crowd was loving it, making all kinds of noise and putting on one hell of a welcome to the 2011 NHL playoffs--and making sure to say, "We hope to see a whole lot more of you soon."
Martin Erat got the scoring started for the Predators at 15:00 in the first period on a power play, and just 38 seconds later the roof almost blew off of the Bridgestone Arena when Jordin Tootoo knocked in a rebound off of his own miss to put the Predators up 2-0.
If only things could have stayed that way.
Nashville continued their dominance through most of the second period, but failed to convert on any of their power play opportunities (which there were many, five in the second period alone) and let Anaheim hang around, trailing only by two goals despite being entirely outplayed in every part of the game.
And when they didn't convert on those opportunities, eventually the Ducks made them pay. Teemu Selanne scored two goals in the span of thirty seconds at 18:10 in the second. Suddenly all of that dominance that the Predators were displaying had entirely dissipated. Shit.
There actually seemed to be an emotional turning point in the game for the Ducks. Shortly before the power play that set up the first goal scored by the Ducks, there was a little scuffle between Mike Fisher and Ryan Getzlaf. It seemed like, up until that point, the Ducks were tentative and letting the Predators stick it to them. They were just rolling over and taking the abuse, but then Getzlaf got into that small skirmish with Fisher and it seemed like it woke up all of their players; suddenly they were playing with a purpose, playing playoff hockey. After scoring, it looked as if they regained some of their swagger, and the Ducks became the aggressor. My how things can change through the course of a playoff game.
Nashville never panicked. They had outplayed the Ducks for the majority of the game, and they knew that if they stuck to the game plan and played hard, everything would work itself out. They couldn't get their heads down and think of how the score should look, instead they just had to go out there and fix what they messed up.
And they did.
With that said, the third period was certainly not for the faint of heart. Nashville drew first blood, with David Legwand scoring to put the Predators up 3-2. Just slightly more than a minute later, however, the Ducks came back and tied it again with a goal by Matt Beleskey. This is what the playoffs are all about: intense, exciting, fast-paced hockey.
Mike Fisher scored the go-ahead goal at 10:21, and that proved to hold up as the winning score 4-3. Anaheim effectively killed themselves at 17:40 in the third when Saku Koivu was called for tripping Jonathon Blum.
Sunday marked the first of two games that the Ducks Bobby Ryan is sitting out because of a suspension levied on him for stomping the skate of Jonathon Blum in Anaheim on Friday night.
A very critical game four of this intense series will be back in Nashville at the Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday at 7:30 PM, in which the Predators will be looking to send Anaheim on the brink of elimination heading back to California.