Last year, the Nashville Predators faced the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Many people forget that this team had the Blackhawks “on the ropes”. In game 5, with less than a minute left in regulation, Nashville was winning 3-2 and the Blackhawks were shorthanded after a Marian Hossa penalty. If the Predators won, then they would head back to Nashville with a 3-2 series lead. The Predators seemed to be on their way to their first postseason series victory. However, Patrick Kane tied the game with 13 seconds left, and forced the game into over time. The goal ignited a fire under the Hawks as Marian Hossa would find redemption with the game-winning goal. We all know the rest of the story, as the Blackhawks went on to win the Stanley Cup.
This year, Predators head coach Barry Trotz started the season on the hot seat. Many people believed if Nashville could not make it further than the first round of the playoffs, then it was time for a change. Trotz is the second longest tenured coach in the NHL with 12 consecutive seasons behind the Predator’s bench. He has had a good career. Trotz has led his team to six playoff appearances in the last seven seasons (including this year). Could he finally lead his team to what has eluded him all of these years?
Well, you know what they say, “There’s a first time for everything.” Finally, the Predators reached the second round for the first time with their 4-2 win on Sunday in front of their home crowd. It took six games, but the Predators finally won a playoff series. What was nice to see for Nashville fans, is that it was a total team effort.
You had the stars: Shea Weber, Martin Erat, Ryan Suter, Pekka Rinne, and Joel Ward. You had the old veterans of Steve Sullivan and David Legwand. You had Mike Fisher, the player they brought in at the trade deadline. Finally, the young guys stepped up as well, with Nick Spaling and Jerred Smithson scoring the game-winning goals in the last two games. Fisher has three goals and three assists to lead the team with six points. Weber has the best plus/minus rating with plus four, and is tied with Fisher and Ward for most goals on the team this series with three. Then you had the “energizer” Jordin Tootoo. He had a plus three rating, he was tied for the most assists on the team with four, he scored a key goal in game three, and he had been in the “sin bin” (penalty box) for 22 minutes this series.
What about Pekka Rinne? He has having the best season in his brief career. Many consider Rinne to be a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, which is awarded to the best goalie. How good was Rinne? He averaged only giving up 2.12 goals per game, which was third best in the league, and he had a save percentage of 93% which was second in the league to Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins.
Thomas actually broke the all-time save percentage record this year, but that is another story. He played in seven more games than Tim Thomas, so in my opinion he played better than Thomas, and deserves the Vezina trophy.
What about the Ducks? They were the fourth seed, which meant they had home field advantage in the first round. They had an amazing first line with Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, and Corey Perry. Perry was being considered for MVP, and Teemu Selanne, still playing well at 40 years old. Don’t forget about the “cinderella story” Ray Emery. He came in late in the season, and returned to the NHL after a one-year absence due to a serious hip injury. Emery carried the Ducks to the playoffs, and is now a finalist for the Masterton Trophy (award for “perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey”). The Ducks had returned to the playoffs after a surprisingly disappointing season last year. What went wrong for the Ducks?
Their defense. The Ducks gave up four goals in each of their four defeats this series. They gave up three goals or more in all six games. Unfortunately, the lack of depth did not help the Ducks either. They only have two quality lines. Defense and depth wins in the playoffs, and the Ducks had neither.
MVP: Mike Fisher
Best Goal: Bobby Ryan
Happiest Man in Nashville: Barry Trotz
Game One: Nashville starts fast by beating Anaheim 4-1. Mike Fisher scores twice and Pekka Rinne makes 27 saves to put up the Predators 1-0 in the series. Teemu Selanne scores the lone goal for the Ducks in third period.
Game Two: Anaheim responds by winning 5-3. The Ducks top line (Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan) scored four goals. Bobby Ryan had two goals including the empty netter to seal the deal, Corey Perry scored the first goal for the Ducks on a power play 5:24 into the game, and Ryan Getzlaf scored what turned out to be the game-winner with 4:06 left in the second period. Selanne scored his second goal of the series, and the Ducks second goal of the game on a power play 6:02 into the game. Shea Weber, Patric Hornqvist, and Joel Ward scored for Nashville. The series was knotted up at one as they headed to Nashville.
Game Three: This game was back and forth. The first two periods were like basketball. The Predators started fast with Martin Erat’s power play goal 15:00 into the game, and Jordin Tootoo’s goal 38 seconds later. In the second period, the Ducks responded with the Teemu Selanne show, as he scored two goals to tie the game. Then, in the third, David Legwand scored 5:25 into the frame to give the Predators a 3-2 lead. Matt Beleskey answered for the Ducks just over a minute later. With just under ten minutes left in regulation, Mike Fisher scored for the Predators as they retook the lead. Nashville tightened up their defense for the remainder of the game and gave the Predators a 2-1 series lead. Anaheim only had 16 shots on goal and hoped to get more offensive production in game four.
Game Four: Anaheim stepped up their game offensively and won 6-3 to even the series at two. Cam Fowler scored on a power play 4:41 into the game to give the Ducks a fast start. Saku Koivu scored 33 seconds later and gave the Ducks a two goal cushion. Patric Hornqvist scored 31 seconds later to stop the bleeding for Nashville, and Joel Ward tied the game 5:44 into the second period. Once again, the game would come down to the third period. That is when Anaheim took control and scored three goals in the period, which prompted Nashville coach Barry Trotz to yank Pekka Rinne. Corey Perry’s shorthanded goal 1:17 into the third was the game-winner. Anaheim looked forward to game five, as they would attempt to take the series lead in front of their home crowd.
Everyone knew this would be a pivotal game in the series. The game would need overtime to determine a winner. Who would expect any less? The game was tied at one when the third period began. Just forty seconds into the frame, Bobby Ryan scored the best goal of the playoffs so far. He stole the puck in their own zone, deked David Legwand, and then performed a zig-zag maneuver between Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne. Since Ryan changed directions so quickly, Rinne was faked out, and that opened the door for Ryan. He buried the puck into the net and gave the Ducks the lead. Even though the goal appeared on Sportscenter a billion times, it ended up meaning nothing, because the two teams would go back and forth for the rest of the period. Who ended up scoring the game-winning goal? Jerred Smithson. Who? The third-line player became the unlikely hero of the game as he scored for the Predators 1:57 into overtime. Now, Nashville looked to close the series back home in game six.
Game Six: Meet Nick Spaling. Technically, this is Spaling’s second year playing, but this was his first full year in the league. Spaling is a defenseman for the Nashville Predators and he has only eight career goals. In game six, he made a name for himself, as he scored two goals, including the game-winner, to help the Predators win their first postseason series. Steve Sullivan and David Legwand also contributed in the Predators’ 4-2 victory. After the game, Trotz summarized their success by saying that it was a total team effort. He said, “That’s sort of what we do. That’s our DNA. To win this series, we needed everybody, and everybody contributed.”
Quote Provided by: NHL.com
Stats Provided by: NHL.com, Anaheim Ducks.com, and Nashville Predators.com
Images courtesy of: 1bp.blogspot.com (Predator), cdn.content.compendiumblog.com (Mascot), Artesiannews.com (Team), Ctpost.com (Rinne), and bleacherreport.net (Ryan)