NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — In a pivotal fifth game to this best of seven first round series the Stars continued to do what they’ve done all series, and that’s out-skate, out-pass and out-defend the Predators in a 5-3 win that gives them a chance to clinch back home in Dallas on Monday.
Put frankly, the Stars, a Western Conference wild card, have just been better than the Central Division champs through five games. That was the case once again Saturday as they erased an early 1-0 deficit inside an ear-splitting Bridgestone Arena desperate to put the Preds over the top. Dallas once again took advantage of a normally sound Nashville defense to silence the crowd and, eventually, send them dejectedly towards the exits.
The Predators were third in the NHL in goals against this season, but gave up five for the second straight game Saturday, hanging star goaltender Pekka Rinne out to dry repeatedly.
There was Jason Dickinson open in the slot for a point blank shot to tie it 1-1 in the first period, before a disastrous second period helped Dallas break things open.
Filip Forsberg’s awful defensive zone turnover led to another tally for the Stars’ top line as Jamie Benn shoveled the puck to Tyler Seguin who found a wide open Alexander Radulov back door for a 2-1 lead.
Minutes later Dallas captain Jamie Benn raced Ryan Ellis back for a puck behind the Nashville net, then easily bumped him aside and fired a pass to Radulov in front. There was nothing Rinne could do about it.
Nor was there anything Pekka could do when Forsberg somehow lost track of Seguin on a two-on-two and Benn fed him for yet another goal.
The Stars’ top line of Benn, Seguin and Radulov dominated this game with three goals and four assists, just like they have a series in which they’ve put up 16 points against just four from the Preds’ celebrated top line of Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson.
Dallas coach Jim Montgomery said, “They wanted more. At one point, Jamie was banging his stick at me trying to get back out there.”
Montgomery said the Stars are “relishing the moment” of their first playoff series in three years and everybody wants the puck. Other than playoff revelation Rocco Grimaldi, who scored for the third time in four games, the Predators look like a team afraid of the puck.
Whether it’s trying to do too much with it or afraid of making mistakes, the Preds have been way too sloppy and the Stars are making them pay time and time again. Austin Watson’s giveaway less than two minutes into the third period led to Dickinson’s second goal and all but ended the Preds’ hopes of a comeback.
“The mistakes we made were obvious,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said afterwords. “Because it seemed like they all ended up in our net.”
The Predators have lost consecutive playoff games for the first time since the Stanley Cup Final two years ago, magnifying the top line’s disappearance and the struggles of supposedly blue chip blueliners Ellis and Mattias Ekholm.
Something just isn’t right and hasn’t been for quite some time with this team which now finds itself on the brink.
Rinne said after the game that, “people (need to stop) talking like the season is over. There’s still a long ways to go.”
But only if this playoff tested Predators team can find some answers by Monday night to bring a game seven back to Nashville.
“They’ll answer the bell in game six and we’ll bring it back here,” Laviolette said in a tone that sounded much more hopeful than it was a guarantee. “But this group has to go and do it. I don’t think we should be relying or hanging our hat, the experience I do believe is good for a team and we now have that experience. But we've got to go there and make sure we do the job as well."
The Predators have been hanging their hat on their reputation from past experience and success all season long, receiving a relative pass for all their inconsistencies.
But now they’ve got to earn it with two wins. Or the season, and that reputation, will be gone.