After their first game no-show against the Vancouver Canucks, Nashville Predators Head Coach Barry Trotz said that his team would find out a lot about themselves in game 2 of their series.
So what did the Predators find out?
They are a team that is not flashy, but is all heart and grit as they fought to a 2-1 double overtime win against the Canucks at Rogers Centre. They showed the world what Predator nation has known all along: there is no quit in this team.
After standing around for most of game one and watching the Canucks dictate the pace of play, the Predators opened this game with lots of jump and took the battle to the Canucks. The Predators skated well and their forecheck was disruptive. They controlled the neutral zone, slowing the Canucks potent offensive attack. Most importantly, the Predators used their speed and attacking style to generate offensive chances.
Those offensive opportunities were thwarted by the Canucks Vezina candidate, Roberto Luongo. Bobby Lu was called upon to make several good stops, including some goal mouth scrambles that saw the Predators create some good scoring chances.
At the other end of the ice, Pekka Rinne did not have to work as hard as Luongo, but had to make some quality saves nevertheless. Rinne opened game 2 just as he had played in game one, with another solid effort in the net. For the period, the Predators outshot the Canucks 12-6, but despite good offensive effort had now gone 4 periods without netting a goal.
That trend would continue into the second period, as the Predators would outshoot the Canucks 9-4 but could not find the back of the net. Again, they created some good scoring chances, but could not solve Luongo.
Although the Canucks only had 4 shots on goal, one of them found the back of the net, and it was a shorthanded goal while the Predators were on the power play. Sergei Kostitsyn turned the puck over coming out of the Predators zone. Ryan Kessler picked up the puck and got it to Alex Burrows. Burrows took a shot that was blocked by Shea Weber, but got his rebound and put the puck past Rinne to give the Canucks a 1-0 lead at 2:00.
In the third period, the Predators kept up the attack, peppering Luongo with 15 shots to just 5 for the Canucks in the period. Despite the good pressure, it appeared as if this game would be another disappointing 1-0 loss as the Predators appeared unable to get anything past Luongo.
Until Ryan Suter altered the course of the game. He threw a shot at the front of the net from a bad angle behind the goal line. The shot hit Luongo skate and skittered over the goal line at 18:53 of the third. An improbable shot had an improbable result, and the Predators had tied the game to the shock of the Canucks and their raucous fans.
In the first overtime, the Canucks out shot the Predators 11-7, and Pekka Rinne was called upon to make some big saves to keep the Canucks off the board. Rinne absolutely robbed Kevin Bieksa on a breakaway attempt. He made several solid saves to keep the Predators hopes alive, and had another spectacular game in net.
Scoreless through the first overtime, the Predators were heading into the second OT period with a sense of confidence that they could take this game. The Canucks, however, were intent on exerting their will and were starting to take control of the contest, outshooting the Predators 7-3. Once again, Rinne made some big stops to hold the Canucks scoreless.
Oh yes, that third shot for the Predators. Ryan Suter picked up the puck in the neutral zone and got it to Nick Spaling. Spals drove down the left wing while Jerred Smithson drove to the front of the net. Spaling slid the puck to Matt Halischuk, who roofed a one-timer over the glove of Luongo for the game winner at 14:51 of the second OT period.
As unbelievable as it was to those in attendance at the Rogers Centre, as gut wrenching as it was to the Canucks, the Predators had evened their series at one.
The little team that could, did.
The adjectives are often overused: resilient; gritty; heart; character. Yet they are adjectives that fit this team perfectly. A team that shows heart and doesn't have any quit in them.
A team that shouldn't be here, according to the pundits. A team that on paper isn't as good as the Canucks.
Never for a moment doubt the heart that beats inside the Predator sweater. A heart that doesn't quit and won't back down. Heart personified by a player like Marty Erat, who lost 4 teeth and suffered a cheap head shot in the opening series and came back. Who took a Shea Weber slapshot to the head in this game. And came back.
Call it heart, guts, or character.
This is what powers this team. A belief in themselves and what they will bring to the ice.
And this is what has brought them an improbable win and an opportunity to seize control of this series.