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Stanley Cup Series Recap | Predators

Predators

Nashville and the Predators, entrenched in the NHL

Hello, Preds Nation!

Welcome to the zone and to the Stanley Cup Final! This is the place that every player on every team in the league has dreamed of, and every fan has imagined. Each aspect of both teams has been examined and analyzed to the most minute detail, and we are finally ready to begin this final best-of-seven-games series. Our Nashville Predators will take on the Pittsburgh Penguins, the defending champions of the NHL, in this series which will determine who will hoist the most coveted trophy in the sports world, Lord Stanley’s Cup.

…and so it begins!

The series kicked off at the PPG Paints Center in Pittsburgh on Monday night. With Pekka Rinne and Matt Murray in goals, the stage was set. Things looked positive for Nashville for the first several minutes of the game as they set the pace and established control, but they had to kill a 5-on-3 power play by the Pens about 7 minutes in, resulting in Pittsburgh’s first goal followed up by a second only a couple of minutes later. A third Penguin goal only a few seconds before intermission meant the Preds were looking at a 3-0 deficit after the opening period—Yikes! Then the 2nd period (a crazy one for sure) saw a couple of power plays for Nashville; they finally capitalized on one when Ryan Ellis scored with 8 ½ minutes left… 3-1, Pens. The big news in this period was the lack of shots on goal by Pittsburgh—not a single one in the entire 2nd period! That continued into the 3rd—a total of 37 minutes without a shot for the Penguins! But then the scoring resumed with a power play goal by Colton Sissons putting the Preds to within one, about midway into the 3rd. Then a couple a minutes later, Frederick Gaudreau notched the tying goal for the Preds, and suddenly, we had new life, having overcome that 3-0 start. But the Penguins responded with another goal at the 16:43 mark to go back ahead 4-3. Nashville pulled out Rinne and Pittsburgh tacked on an empty-netter to make it a 5-3 final, ending the Preds’ hopes of stealing Game #1 on Pittsburgh’s home ice. It was a disappointing loss, but the Predators had shown their determination by coming back from being down 3 goals early to make this a nail-biter in the end. Game #2 on Wednesday should tell a huge story as the Preds find themselves behind 1-0 in the series for the first time this playoffs season; they need to push back in a big way for Game #2.

On The Road Again

Wednesday night arrived, and it was Game #2 in Pittsburgh for the Preds down 1-0 in the series. Interviews with several Predators showed optimism as they shook off the first game and turned their attention forward. It was a strong showing as the 1st period got underway, and Nashville got on the board first on a beautiful goal by winger Pontus Aberg about 7 minutes in. The Pens responded with a goal to tie, and amid several power plays and penalty kills, the opening period ended tied at 1 each. With no goals in the 2nd, Nashville seemed to be in control, almost doubling the Penguins’ shots on goal …(32-19) during the first two periods…..but how quickly things can change! Only 10 seconds into the 3rd, Jake Guentzel got his second goal of the game, putting Pittsburgh out in front 2-1, and then the proverbial “wheels fell off” as they scored 2 more quick goals. Before Preds’ fans could catch their breath, the scoreboard was showing a 4-1 Penguins lead and Coach Laviolette was replacing Rinne with backup goalie Juuse Saros. Saros allowed one goal (which was overturned on an offsides call) but by then, the damage was done, and our guys in gold had to accept the loss. For the 2nd game in a row, it seemed clear that the Predators had outplayed their opponent for a huge percentage of the game, but the time that they did not, was too costly. Down 2 games to 0 in the series, the Preds must put the road trip to Pittsburgh behind them, learn from the mistakes made, and return home to Smashville with an attitude and the determination to take Game #3 at Bridgestone Arena.

Smashville Shines

Saturday arrived, and as anticipated, Nashville was a sea of gold inside Bridgestone. What was not so anticipated, was the estimated more than twice the number of fans inside the building, showing up outside and lining the streets and sidewalks along Broadway to share the experience with fellow Predators fans and watch the game on huge screens set up in the middle of the busiest street in the downtown area! (Predators fans are amazing!) With enormous pressure on Nashville, trying desperately to find a win on their home ice to avoid going down 3-0 in the series, the guys in gold had to get back to playing their style of hockey for a full 60 minutes with no lapses allowing Pittsburgh to score in spurts as in Games 1 and 2. Rinne (7-2 on home ice previously) was back in net for the Preds. At the 2:46 mark in the 1st, the Pens struck first on a goal by Guentzen to put Pittsburgh up 1-0 early. There was no further scoring in the 1st, but in the 2nd, the Predators got their scoring sticks going and put 3 goals on the board….first, one by Roman Josi 6 minutes in on the power play, then one by Gaudreau 6 ½ minutes in, and another by James Neal on a beautiful assist by Viktor Arvidsson with less than a minute left in the period, taking us to intermission leading the game 3-1. In the 3rd, Pittsburgh began a strong push-back, but Nashville did not blink once and put up 2 additional goals, an unassisted breakaway goal by Craig Smith (his first of the playoffs) and one by defenseman Mattias Ekholm on the power play to extend the Preds’ lead to 5-1….Wow! Nashville had held their composure and gotten themselves back in the series with solid play across the roster including Rinne who had made 27 saves on 28 shots on goal. Pittsburgh now had the series lead 2-1, but Nashville showed that they are not in the Stanley Cup Final for no reason—-they are in it all the way! Game #4 is in Nashville on Monday night with another sellout and raucous crowd expected.

There’s No Place Like Home!

The Predators’ Faithful did not disappoint on Monday night as they packed downtown Nashville and Bridgestone Arena for Game #4. Trailing 2 games to 1, but having notched a deciding victory at home on Saturday night, the Preds and their fans were confident with the usual lineup in place. Shots were scarce for both teams early, as the puck was all over the place in every zone. Then, with about 5 minutes remaining in the 1st, Callie Jarnkrok caught a rebound in front of the Penguins net and punched it back in behind Murray to light the lamp for the first goal of the game. But only about a minute later, Sidney Crosby grabbed the puck and managed to escape defenders and beat Pekka with a quick one to tie the score 1-1. The Pens ended the period on a power play that would continue into the 2nd, but the opening period ended with one goal apiece showing on the scoreboard. A tense 2nd period began with the Preds’ penalty kill unit standing up and Pekka turning away big shots by Pittsburgh’s #1 scoring line to keep the score tied. Then Gaudreau squeaked one into the net for his third goal of the series, putting the Predators out in front 2-1. Then it was “the Pekka Rinne Show” with #35 putting on a demonstration of how goaltending is DONE!  With around 7 minutes left, Viktor Arvidsson (love him!!) buzzed one by Murray to make it a 3-1 lead for Nashville. The Preds made a huge push as the period ended, with no score, but maintained the momentum by keeping the puck in their offensive zone and shutting the Penguins down. It was all defense in the 3rd as the Preds continued to keep Pittsburgh from scoring. Then, down 2 goals with 3 ½ minutes remaining, the Pens pulled Murray out for an extra attacker, and almost immediately, Filip Forsberg sailed a wrister the length of the ice into the empty net to score his first goal of the series and give the Preds a commanding lead. The clock ticked down to 0:00… and just like that, the Predators had played their heads off in Games 3 and 4 and tied the series at 2 games each. It was a thrilling win with Fredrick Gaudreau scoring his second game-winner and Pekka Rinne surpassing his usual level of excellent goal-tending making several saves worthy of the highlights reel. We now head back to Pittsburgh for Game #5 on Thursday to begin a best-of-3-games showdown……Wow!

Tie Breaker

Fast forward to Thursday night for the next edition of the BIGGEST game in Predators’ franchise history! Back at the PPG Paints Center in Pittsburgh, Game #5 would break the 2-2 series tie and put one team in position for elimination on Sunday. Scoring got underway early on a goal 1:31 in, by Justin Schultz to put the Penguins in front 1-0. That was only the beginning as Pittsburgh’s Bryan Rust put up another goal less than 6 minutes in and Evgeni Malkin put up still another only a few seconds before the first intermission, sending the Preds to the locker room reeling and down 3-0….Yikes! With #1 goalie Pekka Rinne allowing 3 goals on 9 shots, that would do it for him as Coach Lavy went with backup Juuse Saros to begin the 2nd period. Unfortunately, things didn’t improve as the scoring by Pittsburgh continued, and it seemed that there was nothing the Predators could do to slow them down. The Penguins put up 3 more goals in the 2nd. The shot count at this point was roughly even, but Nashville was clearly being outplayed in every aspect of the game and found themselves down 6-0 after 2 periods. Penalties had not been a huge factor to this point in the game, but as one might expect, things got messy and chippy in the 3rd period with Pittsburgh being assessed 8 penalties, and Nashville, 10. Many were for checks, fighting, roughing, and misconduct—-it was downright ugly. None of the penalties resulted in goals however….it was just painful to watch and the game needed to end! Finally, and mercifully, it did with the Predators being handed a sound defeat to go down in the series 3 games to 2.

Final Curtain Call

Sunday night arrived and it was Game #6….once again the biggest game ever for the Predators! Down 3-2 in the series, it was a “must win” for Nashville and the whole hockey-watching world was tuned in. What they saw was the city of Nashville showcasing themselves not only as Music City, but as a Hockey Town as well ….(no disrespect to Detroit, THE renowned Hockey Town) as well as a Predators team who were ready and focused on the task at hand. There were no goals and only 2 penalties (both on Pittsburgh) in the first two periods, although there was a controversial early whistle from an official. Referee Kevin Polluck lost sight of the puck 1:07 into the 2nd period and blew the play dead one second before Colton Sissons returned a rebound puck into the Pens’ net for a disallowed goal, which ended up being crucial for the Preds. With the score 0-0, Patric Hornqvist (a former Predator) notched the first official goal of the game with only a minute and a half left in regulation. At that point, it was desperation time for Nashville with the game and the series on the line. As expected, Rinne (who had made 27 saves by then) was pulled out to get on an extra attacker, and with 14 seconds left on the clock, Pittsburgh’s Carl Hagelin scored the empty-netter, sealing the deal for the Penguins. With that 2-0 victory, Pittsburgh took the series 4 games to 2, and the championship of the NHL for the second year in a row. It was a very tough loss for our guys in gold who watched their opponent skate hoisting the Stanley Cup on their home ice at Bridgestone.

Playoff Recap

The 2016-17 Nashville Predators thus ended a historic year with a regular season record of 41-29-12, and a thrilling playoffs run, having defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 4-0 in Round 1, the St. Louis Blues 4-2 in Round 2, the Anaheim Ducks 4-2 in Round 3, and losing to the defending NHL champion Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 in the Stanley Cup Final. There are simply not enough positive things to say about this bottom-seeded team, who entered the playoffs as the team almost no one thought had a single chance of making it beyond the first round. The team faced adversities at different times throughout the season and playoffs with dignity and rose above each one to keep moving forward unfazed. The Predators united a city full of fans who turned out in throngs to cheer on their team, astounding the NHL dignitaries and national media members over and over. As the Western Conference Champions clear out their lockers and head to the off-season to reflect on this past year, they should remember that they have established themselves as genuine contenders for the title of Stanley Cup Champions, and honored the franchise, its fan base, and the city of Nashville with their stellar performances on and off the ice. I, for one, cannot wait for next season to watch it happen all over again. Many thanks to all of you for joining me here for this amazing ride. As always,

Go, Preds!

*Editor’s Note:  This historic season’s coverage, as seen through the eyes of one of the most avid Predators fans, has been entertaining, insightful and has been a wonderful example of the passion experienced by the Nashville fan base as a whole. In it’s inception, it was hoped that we could bring you, our reader, a very unique and special perspective to an exciting Preds season. It was indeed… something special.

It has been our extreme pleasure to have Debra as a part of our team at MVP Sports Channel …and we look forward to October. 

-Jeffery L Wix, President, MVP Sports Channel

 

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

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