The Detroit Red Wings fired over 240 shots at Nashville goaltender Dan Ellis during their Western Conference quarter-final series, but it was the unlikeliest one that helped eliminate the pesky Predators in game six on Sunday.
Seconds after Nashville was awarded a power play late in the second period, Nicklas Lidstrom fired a slapshot from his own side of centre that bounced and beat Ellis, an estimated 49 metres.
Jiri Hudler scored on a blistering slapshot early in the third period and Brian Rafalski added an empty-net goal for a 3-0 final at Sommet Center in Nashville. Chris Osgood stopped 20 shots for the shutout, with Ellis again keeping his team in contention with 41 saves.
Detroit advances to the second round of the playoffs and will face either Colorado or Calgary. The Red Wings won the Presidents' Trophy in the regular season as the league's top team, their fourth time with the honour in the last six seasons of hockey, but in only one of those seasons (2001-2002) have they won the Stanley Cup.
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said he saw encouraging signs for his team as they passed a stern test.
"The reality is, it's hard to win in the first round, and if you can get through the first round, it takes the weight off you and now you can just play like you're capable of playing.
Nashville, a franchise in jeopardy of moving last year and which lost several players in the offseason, bows out after making the playoffs with a strong rally in the season's last three weeks.
"As I said to the guys, even right to the end, they battled right to the end," said Nashville coach Barry Trotz. "When they walk out of the dressing room they can hold their heads high."
"We as a group … it was a little bit of a ragtag group, it was easy to fall in love with the group because no one gave us a chance.
Osgood gets 11th career playoff shutout
Osgood recorded his 11th career playoff shutout. Osgood stopped 53 of 54 shots he faced in the series after replacing an ineffective Dominik Hasek in Game 4.
Nashville was playing without centre Jason Arnott, who is suffering from concussion-like symptoms. Centres David Legwand and Scott Nichol returned to the lineup after battling injuries to the foot and thumb, respectively.
Legwand was one of the few consistent threats for the Predators Sunday afternoon, firing five shots on net. Nashville for once were on close to even terms in shots in the scoreless first, with Detroit holding a 10-9 advantage.
The Red Wings resumed their dominance in the second, outshooting the Predators 21-4.
"We weathered the storm in the first period, they came at us pretty good," Osgood told Hockey Night in Canada. "We had a great second, we started getting pucks deep, we gave it away too much in the first and we knew that. We got back to getting pucks deep and grinding their D down."
It was Nashville with the best chance to open the scoring, however, but Rich Peverley lost the puck of his own accord stickhandling on a breakaway.
While Detroit was peppering shots, many were from a long distance and not dangerous — or so it seemed.
'I tried to float one in'
Lidstrom's shot skipped inside the blue line and bounced past Ellis at 13:44 of the second.
"We were shorthanded so I just tried to float one in there and see if it could bounce one in, in front of the goalie," Lidstrom told CBC Sports.
"It was just a lucky bounce for me."
The shot was reminiscent of Lidstrom's long-distance goal on Vancouver's Dan Cloutier in the 2002 playoffs.
"Some of the guys brought it up after the period, so it kind of brought back some good memories," he said.
Nashville soon had a two-man advantage, but Jordin Tootoo was stopped by Osgood.
Darren Helm and Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings were foiled in their good chances to make it a two-goal game after 40 minutes.
Later, Datsyuk drove towards the net, crashing into the goaltender, but the puck did not cross the goal line.
Helm took advantage of a Nashville turnover in the neutral zone early in the third and set up Hudler for his second of the playoffs. It was Helm's first career playoff point.
"Helm's got so much speed, he's a good hockey player, that it lets a guy like [Darren] McCarty who knows how to play the game with good hockey sense, and obviously a guy like Huds, do what they do, so that was positive for us," said Babcock.
Datsyuk was again "snakebit" late in the third, beating Ellis but hitting the crossbar.
Nashville pulled their netminder but couldn't muster anything, setting up Rafalski's clincher.
Detroit outshot Nashville in the series, 242-144.
Ellis, who boasted a 233-minute shutout streak late in the season in his first NHL season, is an unrestricted free agent. He made $500,000 US this season and figures to get a healthy pay raise.
The power-play units were not effective for either side in the series. Detroit went 3-for-26 with the man advantage in the series, while Nashville scored just twice in just 23 attempts.
The Red Wings also eliminated the Predators in six games in 2004.