NASHVILLE -- One year ago, the Nashville Predators were in exactly this same position.
They led the Chicago Blackhawks two games to one through three games of their Western Conference quarterfinal series, only to have the Blackhawks win three of the next four, including a miraculous comeback in Game 5.
In some ways, that series was completely different. Nashville was a No. 7 seed and the Blackhawks, the eventual Stanley Cup winner, were a team that seemed to be fated as the No. 2 seed.
This year, the Predators are No. 5 and Anaheim is No. 4. After the Predators' 4-3 victory in Game 3 on Sunday against Anaheim, Nashville coach Barry Trotz said he thinks his team is showing signs of maturing, especially after Anaheim stormed back late in the second period to tie Sunday's Game 3 at 2-2 after Nashville dominated for the first 38 minutes. At one point, Nashville had four-to-one advantages in both power plays and shots (20-5).
"I think you see a little growth; that can be really disheartening," Trotz said of Teemu Selanne's two goals in 30 seconds that tied it up. "The kind of things that happen there, we played so well and did so many good things and then all of a sudden -- bang, bang -- it's a brand new sort of a hockey game. We talked about all the good things we did for the first two periods and the great thing is we did.
"We got back to what we were doing in the first two periods and we responded both times. We scored, they scored, we just stayed with what we said we were going to do and we just felt very confident about it. It showed me a lot of character and a lot of growth and a lot of maturity for a team that hasn't had a lot of playoff games."
Last year when it came to scoring, it was feast or famine for the Preds. They were shut out in both Games 2 and 4. So far this year, they are scoring regularly -- their 11 goals are the most in the playoffs and their average of 3.67 per game ranks second entering Monday's games.
It's relief for goalie Pekka Rinne, who boasted the League's No. 2 save percentage and No. 3 goals-against average in the regular season, as he has benefitted from goal support.
"Oh, it's great and timely goals, too," he said. "When they tie the game, we get back on the scoring board right away and that's been a plus of late, that's been our thing. And we've been doing a really good job of executing plays and creating scoring chances and making dangerous plays all the time."
Here's how Nashville answered a number of the Ducks' key goals on Sunday. When Anaheim tied it at 2-2 at 18:40 of the second period, Nashville's David Legwand responded at 5:25 of the third period. When Matt Beleskey tied it again for the Ducks at 3-3 at 6:48, Mike Fisher retorted with the game-winner for Nashville at 10:21.
The suggestion was put to a few members of the Predators that they have, for the most part, controlled the series, a notion that they did not necessarily agree with. Nonetheless, apart from the first 6:02 of Game 2 – a 5-3 Ducks’ victory -- when Anaheim scored a 5-on-3 goal and then a 5-on-4 on the continuation of the same power play, much of the rest of the series has belonged to Nashville.
The Preds have scored seven five-on-five goals while Anaheim has four, including one empty-netter in Game 2.
"We got the lead, but I don't know that we're really in control," Fisher said. "We've got a lot of work to do. We're happy with the way we played Game 3 at home, but we know we need to do that and even better the way they responded after Game 1 (a 4-3 Ducks win). We know they're going to do the same on Wednesday. We can't get too confident. We have to bear down and have a solid effort."
So the Preds are confident, but not overly so, as befitting a team that has never won a playoff round, let alone lead a series by two games, as they will attempt to do on Wednesday.
"I think we've played well in the series," Trotz said. "I don't know if you can say 'controlled' the series because I don't think anybody's really done that, but I think we've played well enough to be in the series in every time and have a chance to win every game."
Clearly, the Predators are a team focused on the task at hand. Defenseman Ryan Suter, who was a plus-2 in Game 3, said he did not even remember that last year Nashville led Chicago after three games.
But the idea of learning from a missed opportunity last year, or, at least, wanting to make amends for it, seems on the Preds' minds.
"Obviously, last year -- it is what it is," said captain Shea Weber, who was a plus-3 on Sunday. "We blew it and hopefully we can learn from that. It's still a long series from here on out and we need to make sure we're bringing our best game (on Wednesday)."