GAME: Nashville Predators at Detroit Red Wings.
PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference quarterfinals; tied 2-2.
TIME: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EDT.
Nashville Predators goaltender Tomas Vokoun has made it clear that he's unimpressed and not intimidated by the Detroit Red Wings.
Now, he's taking extra satisfaction in backing up his words.
Coming off his first career postseason shutout, Vokoun tries to lead the Predators within one win of eliminating the top-seeded Red Wings when the first-round series moves back to Joe Louis Arena for Game 5.
A second consecutive stellar performance by Vokoun on Tuesday night pulled Nashville even in the series, as he made 41 saves to defeat Detroit 3-0.
Vokoun stopped 41 shots in a 3-1 victory Sunday and called the Wings arrogant whiners afterward, and implied that Detroit wasn't a better team than Nashville. The 27-year-old Vokoun seems intensely focused on proving his point.
"It's great. I was happy, ... and you want to stay down to earth," he said after Tuesday's win. "It's 2-2, and I wish that was a 40 (save) shutout in Game 7 and we won and you could enjoy it more. I'm going to enjoy it. It's great. There's not much better you can do."
Steve Sullivan, Vladimir Orszagh and Greg Johnson scored for Nashville, and Dan Hamhuis had two assists as the Predators ensured a return visit to Music City for Game 6 on Saturday.
That wouldn't have been possible without Vokoun.
"I think he's got some kind of plexiglass behind him no one can see," Sullivan said.
For Detroit, this series seems to be taking a familiar - and unwelcome - turn. The Red Wings were upset in the first round in 2001 and last year after running into a pair of hot goalies (Los Angeles' Felix Potvin in '01 and Anaheim's Jean-Sebastien Giguere in '03).
"We just have to find a way to win a hockey game," said Detroit forward Darren McCarty, who admitted the Red Wings might be a little frustrated. "The good thing is we're going back to the Joe for Game 5. We've been here before. It's not the way we would have wanted it to go, but it's the way it's gone. We've got a series."
Detroit needs to do something to shake Nashville's confidence, which has increased with each game. Vokoun's fearless attitude appears to have rubbed off on Predators fans, as the energetic Gaylord Entertainment Center crowd drowned out Detroit fans chanting "Let's go Red Wings" with "Chelios is a sissy" on Tuesday.
While Vokoun has been the Predators' best player, Wings goalie Manny Legace has been shaky since winning Games 1 and 2. He was replaced early in the third period Tuesday night by Curtis Joseph after allowing three goals on just 11 shots, and that change will remain for Game 5.
"You always want to play. It's a fun time of the year," said Joseph, who was informed Wednesday by coach Dave Lewis that he would start. "I've worked hard on the (sprained right) ankle with the trainers for this opportunity."
Joseph was first injured Feb. 11 and missed a month. He played in five games before re-aggravating the ankle during warmups March 23 at San Jose.
Nobody scored more goals in the regular season than the Red Wings in winning the Presidents' Trophy, but Detroit's top offensive players need to get going for the Wings to regain control of the series. Pavel Datsyuk had 30 goals during the regular season, but he has only one assist in the four games.
Mathieu Schneider, Robert Lang and Tomas Holmstrom all had at least one point in each of the first two games, but haven't had a single point in the last two games.
The Wings went 0-for-5 on the power play Tuesday and are 1-for-20 in the series.
"I think we just have to calm down, focus on just doing the little things that bring us success and not so much worry about things that are out of our control," Detroit forward Brendan Shanahan said.
Of course, the Red Wings' struggles are due in large part to Vokoun, who seems unconcerned by how many pucks Detroit has thrown at him.
"We give up a lot of shots, but a lot of shots I'm able to see and they have got to be doing something right. It's all about that. If you can see, you can stop it," Vokoun said.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Predators - 91 points, 8th seed. Red Wings - 109 points, 1st seed.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Predators - Adam Hall, 2 goals; four with 2 assists; Hall, Johnson and Scott Hartnell, 3 points; Kimmo Timonen, 10 PIM. Red Wings - Lang, 2 goals and 3 points; Kirk Maltby and Shanahan, 2 assists; Shanahan, 12 PIM.
PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Predators - Power play: 0.0 percent (0 for 19). Penalty killing: 95.0 percent (19 for 20). Red Wings - Power play: 5.0 percent (1 for 20). Penalty killing: 100 percent (19 for 19).
GOALTENDERS: Predators - Vokoun (2-2, 1 SO, 1.51); Chris Mason (no appearances). Red Wings - Legace (2-2, 2.18); Joseph (0-0-0, 0.00).
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