Nashville defenseman Kevin Klein was drafted in the second round of the 2003 Entry Draft at Bridgestone Arena, known at the time as Gaylord Entertainment Center.
He has seen his share of events of happenings in the building: goals, wins, losses, heartaches and celebrations. However, eliminating the Detroit Red Wings from home ice in Game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals was an entirely new feeling.
“It’s one of those things that all of our fans will be talking about for a long time because it is Detroit,” Klein said.
For Nashville, who finished ahead of Detroit in the regular season for the first time in franchise history, chasing the Red Wings is almost second nature. The first playoff series in franchise history was against the Red Wings in 2004. The two teams met again in 2008. This season was the first year in which the Predators defeating the Red Wings would not necessarily be considered an upset.
For just the second time in franchise history, Nashville forced an elimination game and made the most of it. The Predators went ahead of the Red Wings for good in the third period and basically shut Detroit down the rest of the way. As the clock hit zeroes, Nashville had a 2-1 victory, its second-ever series win and the first-ever series win over the team they have been chasing since the franchise’s inception.
“We have had such a good rivalry with them over the years,” Klein said. “They’ve kind of been the dragon that we haven’t been able to slay and it was great to finally do it tonight.”
Klein was a key factor in the latter part of the series, scoring a goal in each game in Detroit, including the game winner in Game 4. In addition, he made a remarkable block in Game 3 which may have been the difference maker. All told, the 5-game series may have been the best stretch of the Nashville defenseman’s career.
“In the playoffs, you just see a better overall team game,” Klein said. “You see lots of guys performing to their max and it’s nice that I could step it up with my teammates. Obviously I’m not known for scoring, but the fact that I put in a couple maybe surprised people. It’s just one of those things when you get the chance and it happens to go in, it’s nice.”
With the victory over Detroit, Nashville is the first NHL club to advance out of the first round. What this means for Klein and his teammates is that they have to practice and prepare over the next few days with no idea of who they will match up against in the second round.
“Right now,” Klein said, “it’s just focusing on getting rest, staying in game shape, practicing and taking care of our bodies.”
In addition to not knowing who their opponent will be, the quick victory could lead to the team getting slightly complacent and relaxed. The first round is just a quarter of the way home in the quest for the Stanley Cup. Klein says in order not to rest too much on their laurels, the team basically needs to do a full reset.
“We have a day off tomorrow, so you just have to recharge the batteries. That’s the main thing,” Klein said. “Sunday we have another work day, so we’ll come in, get the team together again and just go from there.”