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Beating the Red Wings

The Predators are measuring up to archrival Detroit, their first obstacle in a Cup run

Posted: Tuesday February 27, 2007 11:24AM; Updated: Wednesday February 28, 2007 1:41PM
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Before scoring the game-winner last Saturday, new Predator Forsberg played a little, uh, defense on forward Valtteri Filppula.
Before scoring the game-winner last Saturday, new Predator Forsberg played a little, uh, defense on forward Valtteri Filppula.
Lou Capozzola/SI
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In Nashville the accursed white whale is red. Since the Predators entered the NHL in 1998, they have chased the elusive, hulking glory of the Red Wings, not only in the Central Division but also in their own city, which is heavily sprinkled with Detroit fans. Now, with five weeks remaining in a season in which Nashville used a run of 20 wins in 24 games to cement its status as a Stanley Cup contender, the Predators -- with visions of a silver chalice rather than Ahab's gold doubloon shimmering in their minds -- are hot on the great beast's tail.

A 4-3 win over Detroit last Saturday night, a game that Nashville controlled at even strength, was sealed in overtime when newly acquired star Peter Forsberg (a longtime Red Wings nemesis from his days with the Colorado Avalanche) knocked in a nifty backhand pass from Paul Kariya. "It couldn't be better," Forsberg said afterward. "We beat Detroit at home.... We have to keep the momentum going."

The win, which thrust the Predators back into first place in the Central, evened the season series between the clubs at two games each and set the stage for four meetings in March that will decide the division. All games in the seemingly interminable 82-match regular season might be about equal -- sometimes two points, sometimes three -- but, as Orwell's farm animals might note, those against Detroit are more equal than others.

Nashville played before a sellout crowd of 17,113 on Saturday, and with each victory over the Red Wings a few more locals may be won over. (Before a home game against Detroit in the Predators' first season, forward Scott Walker surveyed the sea of red, wing-wheeled jerseys in the stands and said, "O.K., boys, let's try to take the crowd out of the game.") Also, any game against the standard-setting Red Wings gives Nashville the chance to gauge both the extent and limitations of its capabilities. Most important of all in this season's top-heavy Western Conference: If Nashville can at last sink Detroit in the Central, it could avoid a first-round playoff matchup with an elite Pacific Division team, a worthwhile detour for a franchise that has yet to win a postseason series.

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