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Smashville Surprise | Stanley Cup

Hello again, Fellow Predators Fans!

Deb here back in the PLAYOFF ZONE for the Predators’ Western Conference Final series! This is uncharted territory for Nashville as history was made in their defeat of the Chicago Blackhawks in Round 1 and the St. Louis Blues in Round 2 to get here. Our opponent this time is the Anaheim Ducks, who are coming off a grueling series in which they eliminated the Edmonton Oilers in 7 games. It is a rough road ahead as these games will determine the champion of the Western Conference, who will then compete in the Stanley Cup Final.

Opening of Duck Season

It was Game #1 at the Honda Center in Anaheim on Friday night. The Preds had fresher legs, having rested since last Sunday when they clinched the previous series, whereas Anaheim only wrapped up their series 2 nights earlier after 7 full games. The two teams played their #1 goaltenders, Pekka Rinne for Nashville and John Gibson for Anaheim. The Ducks struck first only 5 minutes into the game on an unassisted goal by Jakob Silfverberg. But our guys in gold kept their cool heads, and Filip Forsberg tied the score at 1 each a little past midway in the 1st period. Shortly after the 2nd period got underway, Nashville secured the lead on a shot by Austin Watson. Each of first two periods had seen major special teams play by both clubs having several power plays, but none resulted in goals, so the scoreboard at the 2nd intermission showed Nashville leading 2-1. Things remained the same well into the 3rd, but then at the 7:21 mark, the Ducks’ Hampus Lindholm lit the lamp on Nashville’s net, tying the score 2-2. With no penalites, strong defense, solid goaltending, and high drama, the period expired, taking the all-important Game #1 to overtime. There were 2 fan bases holding their breath for half an OT period, when Nashville’s James Neal found space above Gibson’s shoulder to sneak one in for the game-winner. It was a huge win for the Preds, having outshot the Ducks 46-29, once again demonstrating Rinne’s sterling play and the “Real Deal” James Neal’s clutch shooting to steal Game 1 from the Ducks on their home ice!

Not Exchanging Christmas Cards

Game #2, still in Anaheim, was on Sunday night. It was Rinne and Gibson back between the pipes. Nashville got off to a brilliant start with Viktor Arvidsson finding Ryan Johansen, who buried the puck to give the Preds an early lead 1-zip. Then at the 8:30 mark, James Neal followed up his game-winner on Friday with a power play goal to gain a 2-0 lead for Nashville. But before the 1st period wrapped up, the Ducks’ Sami Vatanen scored on a power play to get Anaheim on the board. Early in the 2nd, Jakob Silfverberg evened the score at 2, and then Filip Forsberg notched the go-ahead goal—3-2, Preds. Then the wheels fell off a bit for Nashville as they allowed 2 more goals before the end of the 2nd, which definitely belonged to the Ducks. With a 4-3 lead for Anaheim looming on the scoreboard, the Predators got several good looks early in the 3rd, including a lengthy scramble of bodies in front of Anaheim’s net with a little less than 6 minutes to play. But our guys could not punch it in, and as time ticked away, the Ducks sealed the win with an empty-netter to make it 5-3. The VERY tough loss was punctuated by emotionally-charged post-game interviews from Nashville’s Ryan Johansen and Anaheim’s Ryan Kessler, who did battle for the entire game and clearly have no warm and fuzzy feelings for one another. Johansen, with a goal and an assist in this game, tied the franchise record for points in a single post-season with 13 (3 goals and 10 assists.) We are certainly not finished hearing about the dog-fight on the ice between these two. The 1-1 series now shifts to Music City for a huge Game #3 at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday night.

Predators Magic

Broadway in Nashville was a sea of gold on Tuesday for Game #3. Emotions were running high on and off the ice with some bad blood having been formed between some of the players—-the makings of intense playoff hockey! The usual lineups were a go for this one, and it didn’t take long for the bodies to start flying and crashing off the boards. Defense prevailed early, and we were scoreless in Period #1. Things got rolling though in the 2nd, as both teams were called for infractions; Anaheim for 3 and Nashville for 4 in this period alone. However, the only time it was costly was the Ducks’ goal at 15:35 on the power play giving them a 1-0 lead. Then in the 3rd, Filip (Scoresberg) Forsberg knotted the score at 1 each around 4 minutes in. That score ignited the fans and upped the volume in an already deafening Bridgestone Arena. The “7th Man” roared and chanted and willed the guys in gold to keep going in spite of the 2 Predators’ goals that were waved off by the officials for goaltender interference…..WHAT???? Then, like magic, the Predators landed the go-ahead power play goal (from Defenseman Roman Josi) with less than 3 minutes remaining. The Ducks attempted the tie by pulling out Gibson for the extra attacker as anticipated, but Nashville shut them down and again made Predators history, taking the 2-1 victory with stellar defense and by out-shooting them 40-20 at one point. This win gave the Preds a 2-1 series lead heading into another home game on Thursday night in Smashville.

Dashing Ducks

Thursday arrived in a city dressed in gold; it was Game #4 in Nashville. The sellout crowd in Bridgestone was pumped, and the team seemed ready. But things turned sour pretty quickly as the puck dropped, and the physical punishment both teams were inflicting on each other began. The officials let them play in the 1st, as there was only a single penalty called on each. The Ducks got on the board about midway through as Nashville could not get anything going, and ended up behind 1-0 after only logging 2 shots on goal for the entire period. The crowd was a bit stunned, having witnessed their team give what was arguably their worst period of play since the playoffs began. In the 2nd, there were no penalties called and one score—-the Ducks notching a second goal to go up 2-0. In the 3rd, the Preds finally got their legs under them and Anaheim began to be called for penalties and spent time in the box 4 separate times, one being a 5-on-3 in favor of the Preds. With 13:33 remaining, P. K. Subban finally broke through with a slap shot to make it 2-1. And then in high dramatic fashion with Nashville’s goal empty, Filip Forsberg tied the score with only 35 seconds left, tying the score and sending the game to OT. But the Smashville Faithful’s hopes were dashed when Anaheim’s Corey Perry banged home an unassisted goal to win the game 3-2, and tie the series 2-2 heading back to California on Saturday. They said this would be a tough battle in this series……and they weren’t wrong!

All Aboard the Scoring Train

Fast forward to Saturday night and it was Game #5 at the Honda Center back in Anaheim. The big story going into this game was Nashville’s injury report, which bore the name of Captain Mike Fisher, out for an undetermined amount of time, and #1 Center Ryan Johansen, who would be out for the remainder of the playoffs, sidelined for 2-3 months after having emergency surgery on his left leg following the game on Thursday. This seemed to be a huge blow to the Predators heading back to hostile ice and doing battle every shift with opposing players who are notorious for physicality and their reputation for cheap shots. It was clear that the Predators would need every member of their team to step up and play at their highest level to overcome the loss of the lead in the series as well as two of their top players. And step up they DID! With no score in the 1st, Anaheim’s goal-tender John Gibson received an injury and was replaced by Jonathan Bernier. Midway into the 2nd, Chris Wagner tipped one in past Pekka Rinne to get the Ducks on the board 1-0. The Preds responded only seconds before the intermission with a power play goal by Colin Wilson to knot the score at 1 each. Rinne made some incredible saves as the game wore on. In the 3rd, Nashville’s Pontus Aberg was able to get one by Bernier to make it a 2-1 lead for the Preds…(10 different players have now scored game-winning goals for Nashville during these playoffs….pretty impressive.) Then with 47 seconds left, Austin Watson grabbed the puck beyond the blue line in the Nashville zone and hurled it almost the length of the ice —and BAM, a perfect shot into the Ducks’ empty net for the goal that sealed to 3-1 Predators’ win! Rinne made 32 big saves in this one, leading the Preds in a game that showed much heart and determination. With this, Nashville re-gained the series lead 3-2, giving them a chance to close it out at home on Monday night.

Catfish, Crazy And Chance For The Cup!

And then it was Monday…. and Nashville, Tennessee was the place to be! There was gold on top of gold inside (and outside) of Bridgestone Arena as the puck dropped on Game #6, a game that would mean a Western Conference title for the Predators OR elimination for the Ducks. Not only was Nashville without key players (Kevin Fiala, Fisher, Smith, Johansen) for this one, Anaheim was also missing big names (Rakell, Eaves, Gibson) from its lineup. It was an exciting, albeit confusing 1st period for the Predators’ Faithful as the Ducks held our guys to only 4 shots on goal in the entire period…..????? …..but happily, 2 of the 4 found the back of the net as Austin Watson buried one only 1:21 in, followed up by a Colton Sissons goal 8:47 in to end the period 2-0 Preds. The 2nd period saw the same low shot count for Nashville as once again, they got away only 4 shots on goal, this time sinking none, while Anaheim totaled 25 SOG for the first 2 periods and did hit pay dirt once to give us a score of 2-1, Preds at the 2nd intermission. But it was high drama in the 3rd, starting with Sissons for the Preds lighting the lamp for his second goal of the night only 3 minutes into the period. Then Anaheim got their sticks going and scored 2 straight goals to tie the game at 3 each about halfway through. About 7 minutes remained when the Preds re-gained the lead on a HUGE hat trick goal by Sissons ….(WOW)…putting the Preds back in front 4-3. The battle was on,  with the Ducks pulling out all the stops and shooting their heads off, throwing everything they had at Rinne in the net. Their desperation move of pulling out their goaltender for the extra attacker was unsuccessful as both Filip Forsberg and Austin Watson scored empty-netters to extend the Nashville lead to 6-3 and the Predators fans into a frenzy! The clock ticked down to 0:00, and a new Western Conference champion was crowned! With only 18 shots on goal for the entire game to Anaheim’s 41, the Predators had scored 6 times and pulled off a huge win to take the series 4-2 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final!

Smashville Stunners

The Nashville Predators, a team that had entered the playoffs as a #8 seed, has stunned the hockey world, become the champions of the Western Conference and now in position to win the Stanley Cup! Their success seems to have come from this teams’ depth, resiliency, and belief in themselves. With this turn of events, the Preds have won the respect and hearts of countless new fans, and have given the city of Nashville and surrounding areas “Preds Fever.” I personally could not be happier to welcome new fans to this great sport and this amazing team’s fan base.  Next up is the Pittsburgh Penguins, who defeated the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in a Game 7 2OT battle, and are the Eastern Conference titleholders. It is sure to be epic as our Predators do battle for the most coveted trophy in sports…..Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Game 1 is scheduled for Monday night at 7 CT. Be sure to stay tuned!

Go, Preds!

 

Stanley CupDebra Murray is a weekly contributing writer for MVP Sports Channel (and die-hard fan of the Nashville Predators).

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