If the Nashville Predators were going to defeat the Anaheim Ducks, they were going to have to get scoring from their bottom 6 forwards, stay out of the box, and play very strong defense in front of Pekka Rinne in their game 6 match up at Bridgestone Arena.
The Predators defeated the Ducks 4-2 to capture their first round series by a similar margin of 4-2 and in the process the Predators captured their first ever Stanley Cup playoff series.
The understatement of the year would be to say that this was a huge step for this franchise.
More times than I care to recount, the denizens of Smashville have watched their heroes skate off the ice after a game 6 clinching victory for the opposition. The disappointment and frustration were palpable.
Everyone knew that the Ducks were going to come out with a sense of desperation as they were attempting to stave off elimination. It was going to be imperative that the Predators match their intensity and control the play, especially early on in the contest.
The Predators did a great job of thwarting the pressure of the Ducks in the first period as they limited the Ducks to just 4 shots. However, one of those shot was an amazing goal by Teemu Selanne as he found the tiniest of openings between Rinne and the post to give the Ducks a 1-0 lead at 10:22 of the first period.
I want to say that Selanne is just flat out unbelievable. His play was outstanding throughout the series and he did not engage in the cheap shots and extra-curricular activity that so many of the Ducks chose to do. His play almost single handedly carried the Ducks to victory in the series as he tallied 6 goals.
The Selanne goal was an "uh-oh" moment for the Predators. No team in this series had won two consecutive games, and his goal put the Smashville faithful in a state of high anxiety.
That tension was relieved at 19:32 f the first period as Nick Spaling tied the game as he buried the puck off a rebound of a Jordin Tootoo shot past Ray Emery. All along, the Predators knew they were going to have to get scoring from their bottom six forwards to have a chance in this series, and time and again, they came up big time.
Thank you, Mr. Spaling.
The Predators would take a 2-1 lead at 3:29 of the second period as Steve Sullivan absolutely undressed Emery with a nice forehand to backhand move. Sullivan was playing on the fourth line with Blake Geoffrion and J.P. Dumont, but that did not mean this line wasn't a threat. Sullivan used his speed to create the opportnity and his wiles to fake out Emery. A veteran move and a big time goal for the Predators.
The Ducks weren't going to go away quietly, however. Jason Blake tallied a power play marker at 18:23 of the second to tie the game heading into the third period.
Once again, the potent Ducks power play had torched the Predators. In this series, it was apparent that the Ducks could not beat the Predators 5 on 5, and it was going to be incumbent on the Predators to stay out of the box to have a chance to close out this series. A transgression by J.P. Dumont for tripping had allowed the Ducks to get back in the contest, and it set up a tense third period.
A period where heart and character would shine through. A period where the team with the biggest heart and strongest character would emerge victorious.
That team would be the Predators.
The Predators appeared to have taken a 3-2 lead as Patric Hornqvist tipped the puck past Emery early in the third period. However, the goal was waved off as it was deemed that Hornqvist had played the puck with a high stick.
Deflating? Yes. Defeating? No.
Nick Spaling would strike again at 4:23 of the third period off an assist from Pekka Rinne and Jordin Tootoo. Tootoo took a pass from Rinne and put the puck on net. Spaling was right where he should have been, crashing the net. Spaling gathered in the rebound from Rinne and potted his second marker of the game to give the Predators a 3-2 lead.
Once again, the play was created by the hustle and the shot of Tootoo. He was very solid in this series and played the best hockey that he has played since donning a Predators sweater. One could argue that he was the difference maker in this series.
The Predators did a good job in the bulk of the period keeping the Ducks to the outside and not allowing prime scoring chances. Rinne made several good saves to hold the Ducks off the board, and the offense continued to press the Ducks.
As the period wore on, one could see the frustration, desperation, and fatigue hit the Ducks. You knew that the overtime loss in Anaheim on Friday had to weigh mentally on the Ducks, and it showed in their play.
With the 7th Man in full throat, exhorting their team on to victory, the Predators caught a break as Saku Koivu was called for interference at 19:22. With the net empty for an extra attacker, David Legwand buried an empty netter at 19:50 to give the Predators a 4-2 victory.
The demons for this franchise had been exorcised! The 8000 pound gorilla of never winning a first round series was gone! The Predators were now advancing to the second round and this franchise had made a huge- HUGE- step forward.
The Predators survived the cheap shots that the Ducks threw at them all throughout the series. The dirty play of the Ducks was uncalled for and off the chart. Yet this team persevered and fought through the adversity of losing one of their top scorers to a blatant head shot. They were able to win this series without a "star" but with a team concept that would not be daunted and refused to yield in the face of the talent and thuggery of the Ducks.
Congratulations to head Coach Barry Trotz. Trotzy has nursed this franchise through its infancy and growth pains to this point. This team is a reflection of his steady hand and determination.
The Predators await their second round opponent, which will be determined by the outcome of the Chicago/Vancouver series, which is going to a 7th game. Now is the time to heal and get ready for another war.
Savor the win, boys. Congratulations! You deserve the kudos and the adulation of Smashville.
This is the first step. A big step. A monumental achievement for this franchise.
You can't rest on your laurels, however.
There are new steps to take.
My three stars:
1. Nick Spaling
2. Pekka Rinne
3. Teemu Selanne