Weber stars as Preds take series lead

Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard and defenseman Niklas Kronwall defend their net against...

Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard and defenseman Niklas Kronwall defend their net against Nashville Predators center Mike Fisher during their playoff game in Detroit, April 15, 2012. (REUTERS/Rebecca Cook)

Rob Longley, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 5:18 PM ET

DETROIT - If Shea Weber knew he was going to be public enemy No. 1, the Nashville Predators' all-star defenceman figured he might as well continue the villain's role while here in the Motor City.

Of course, it doesn't hurt when you have a dangerous masked man on your side.

Weber was his usual self Sunday afternoon -- which is to say extraordinary -- in helping his team to a 3-2 win over the Red Wings at a fired-up Joe Louis Arena. The victory allowed the Preds to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinal and tip home-ice back to their own booming barn in the Music City.

And Pekka Rinne? All he did was face a barrage of shots, 43 in total, dodge the odd flying octopus during the national anthem and fend off the crease-crashing Red Wings.

"(Weber) was a monster out there," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said of the player Detroit fans have come to despise. "You talk about all great players when they face a little bit of adversity or controversy or a big moment and they step up.

"Obviously coming to the rink, he knew what it was going to be like and he made a big statement."

Whether Weber should have been able to make any statement is up for debate and directly related to the fact that the NHL discipline office was closed for business the day after he repeatedly bounced Henrik Zetterberg's face off the end glass.

But welcome to the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, where half the teams should be wearing throwback uniforms considering the preferred style of play.

Trotz's monster depiction included Weber counting the opening goal on the power play just 2:48 into the game, a huge momentum swing for the Preds in their quest to make an early statement and win their first post-season game here.

It included a game-high 27 minutes and six seconds of ice time spread over 33 shifts. And it included providing the key stability in front of the net that allows Rinne to do his superb thing.

"It's a tough building to play in," Weber said when asked about the reaction of the overheated Hockeytowners. "It's part of it. Whatever. We're focussed on the game and winning."

It didn't hurt that Rinne was a wall for most of the game, only beaten on a late desperation goal by Zetterberg in the final minute and on a second period Pavel Datsyuk marker that was all on Preds defenceman Roman Josi, who was stripped behind his own net.

The Predators weren't too thrilled about the traffic Rinne faced but given the style they play, the shots weren't a big deal.

"We knew that if (our defence) can deflect things, keep things on the outside, they can have as many shots as they want," Trotz said. "He doesn't get phased. He's used to (getting run). Everyone in the league seems to want to do that."

As a team, the Predators seem mentally and physically equipped to reach the next stage of their franchise development.

It started with a first playoff win at the Joe in this their third playoff series here. And as Weber said, the team learned a great deal from last season's loss to Vancouver in the second round and to Chicago in the opener the previous year -- two teams that ultimately advanced to the Stanley Cup final.

"We don't have a long history as a franchise," Trotz said. "We've had good regular seasons and we've been a competitive team. But there's new experiences. If we were in the league for 100 years, we wouldn't be talking about our first playoff win in Detroit. This is just one of the things we've got to get done."

Few would predict the imminent end of this series, which continues here Tuesday, given the odd flow. The Wings, after all, won Game 2 with just 17 shots on net and were denied in Game 3 when increasing that output by two and a half times.

Though the Wings acknowledged the right call was made, it could have been a vastly different third period if the second had lasted a tenth of a second longer. Johan Franzen banged in a rebound that crossed the line a snap of the fingers too late.

"The series is a long way from over," Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard said. "We've just got to keep on the same path."

As long as that path can get through the opposition's goaltender and stud defenceman.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/longleysunsportIf Shea Weber was already public enemy No. 1 in the Motor City, he might as well play the villain's role while he's here.

Of course, the all-star defenceman had a little help from the masked man in the Nashville Predators net.

Weber scored the first goal of the game and goaltender Pekka Rinne was brilliant in the third period of a 41-save effort as the Preds turned back the determined Red Wings with a 3-2 win. The Preds not only took a 2-1 series lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinal but also regained home-ice advantage.

Rinne was spectacular in enemy territory where the raucous mood was set before the final bars of the national anthem and the first octopus toss of the afternoon occurred.

At one point in the third, the Wings had a 12-0 edge in shots, with the Preds not getting their first puck at Jimmy Howard until the 12-minute mark.

Predictably, Weber was booed heartily every time he touched the puck, Hockeytown's response to his Game 1 head-bashing into the end glass of the Wings' Henrik Zetterberg. Of course, if the NHL discipline office hadn't been closed for business, there was a good chance Weber wouldn't have even had the opportunity.

Unlike the two games in Nashville to open the series, this one had scintillating end-to-end action despite the early start. The Wings were obviously set on opening up their offence and did so in waves.

The Preds claimed a 1-0 lead after the opening period but the Red Wings carried much of the play. After mustering just 17 shots in all of Game 2, they came at Rinne with a vengeance. Twice he was bowled over by Wings players and he faced a more working man's 11 shots.

The Predators opened the scoring in the first when the power play -- 0-for-12 in the first two games of the series -- finally woke up. Even worse, it was Weber who got it, sneaking in from the blueline to bang in a rebound while Drew Miller (brother of Sabres' star netminder, Ryan) was off for goaltender interference.

Still, the Predators took a 2-0 lead on a Bobby Orr-like individual effort from Preds defenceman Kevin Klein at 3:50 of the second. Klein caught the Wings defence napping as he split them, got hooked by Brad Stuart and while off-balance was still able to roof the puck high over Howard.

The Wings finally got on the board at 15:03 with vintage Pavel Datsyuk. The veteran all-star stripped Preds defenceman Roman Josi behind his own net and tucked it in behind Rinne.

The Wings -- and certainly their fired-up fans at the Joe -- thought they had tied it up in the final snap of the fingers in the second. Johan Franzen banged home a rebound on a power play that had started just 12 seconds earlier but replays showed the clock expired when the puck was a foot and a half from crossing the goal line.

Sergei Kostitsyn gave the Predators an insurance marker at 16:30 of the third. Zetterberg beat Rinne over the shoulder with 52 seconds left to provide some late drama

The series resumes here Tuesday.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

Twitter.com/longleysunsport


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