Monday, April 25, 2011

Preds 4, Ducks 2: Worth the Wait

After all of the heartbreak, frustration, and questions of when the Nashville Predators were ready to take the next step beyond the first round of the playoffs, they finally put all of the doubt to rest tonight, beating the Anaheim Ducks 4-2, and clinching their first ever playoff series by the same total.

It took 13 long years, but it was worth the wait.

1st Period
  • With it being Easter weekend, I was fortunate to be able to make it to the game today, my first playoff game since Game 4 of the Preds series with Detroit in the 08-09 season. The second I walked in, the buzz that filled the building blew me away. When the Preds took the ice for warmups, it was loud. Before the intro video started playing, it got loud. It was deafening as David Legwand and Ryan Getzlaf battled for the opening faceoff. It was loud all game long. After Friday night, this city knew what was at stake, and they brought the energy that they had displayed all season long. 
  • Leading up to Game 6, the first team to score ended up going on to win the game. That didn't bode well for the Preds early on, as Teemu Selanne tallied his sixth goal of the series at 10:22, swinging around from behind the Nashville net and lifting a backhander over the shoulder of Pekka Rinne.
  • It seemed like Anaheim would go into the intermission with the lead, until the line that made the difference in Game 5 came to life again. With time winding down in the period, Ryan Suter chased a loose puck deep in the Ducks zone and put a check on a Ducks defender. That loosened up the puck, and Jordin Tootoo found Nick Spaling in the slot, who zipped a shot over Ray Emery's right shoulder at 19:32 to even the score.
2nd Period
  • When given time to play, Steve Sullivan and JP Dumont have remained relatively quiet, but both contributed in a big way to give Nashville their first lead of the game at 3:29. Blake Geoffrion found JP Dumont down the middle of the ice, and after some nice stickhandling, Dumont fed a streaking Sullivan with a beautiful pass, and Sully made quick work of Ray Emery.
  • Anaheim's lethal PP unit took to the ice after Dumont was sent to the box for tripping. Jason Blake scored his third goal in the past two games at 18:23, deflecting a Bobby Ryan wrister past Rinne.
3rd Period
  • Nashville appeared to take the lead early in the period off of a Patric Hornqvist deflection, but the goal was waived off due to a high stick, and a video review in Toronto upheld the ruling. There were plenty of people that questioned the ruling, but thankfully it had no impact on the result of the game, other than making the last 15+ minutes of regulation an emotional roller-coaster ride.
  • I'm not a big fan of goalies coming out of their net to play the puck (see: Marc-Andre Fleury in the Winter Classic). Pekka has given all of us heart attacks at many points during the season, but his aggressive play on what turned out to be the GWG temporarily made me thankful he's so aggressive on the ice. Moments after Hornqvist's goal was waived off, Anaheim dumped the puck into the Preds zone and went off for a change. Pekka came out to play the puck, and quickly sent a long pass up ice to Spaling. Spaling in turn got the puck to Tootoo, who turned on the jets and bore down on Emery. Emery stopped Tootoo's shot, but the line change left Spaling unmarked, who found the rebound and gave Nashville back the lead at 4:53, a lead they would not relinquish.
  • The remainder of regulation was filled with numerous chances for both teams, but neither team could pull ahead or pull even until Legwand's empty net goal at 19:50 sent Bridgestone Arena into a frenzy.

 Other Thoughts
  • Once again, a goal was scored in every period, meaning a goal was scored in every period of every game of the series. If you would've told me that was going to happen prior to the start of this series, I would've laughed.
  • The Spaling-Smithson-Tootoo line came up big again. Spaling's two goals were obviously key, but Tootoo registered two primary assists for the second consecutive game, and Smithson was his old self, winning all five faceoffs he took.
  • I touched on how Anaheim's PP unit was lethal, but a big contributor to Nashville's win today was the fact that the unit only took to the ice twice. If that's not shocking enough, Shane O'Brien was not one of the two offenders, the first time in the series he did not end up in the box. Props to Shane, and the rest of the team for that matter, for staying disciplined throughout this game. Everyone knew what was on the line, and the series had plenty of rough patches and was plenty physical, but taking only two penalties today was HUGE.
So, for the first time, instead of sitting back and wondering what could have been, the Preds instead wonder what lies ahead, starting with who their next opponent will end up being. The first hurdle has been cleared; now, how far can this team go? With all of the momentum that this team is riding, this season could end up being something very special.

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