Saturday, April 23, 2011

Predators Finally Win a "Biggest Game in Franchise History"

It was an exciting afternoon on April 2nd, 2011 in the city of Nashville. Playoff tickets had gone on sale that morning and the Predators were set to take on their hated rivals, the Detroit Red Wings in the biggest game in franchise history. A win would give Nashville a great chance at winning their first ever central division title. The Predators took a 3-0 lead but subsequently collapsed to lose 4-3 in overtime.

April 20th, 2011. Bridgestone Arena was buzzing, hoping to see their team take a 3-1 series lead for the first time in franchise history. This was the biggest game in franchise history. Nashville did not start out well but got the crowd believing again as Matt Halischuk banged home a goal to tie the game at three. However, the Ducks dominated the third period characterized by defensive breakdowns, uncharacteristic play from Pekka Rinne, and a sheer lack of offense from the Predators. A 6-3 loss deflated the spirits of fans both inside and outside Bridgestone Arena, and flashbacks of past first round failures were deep in the collective mind of Pred Nation. All seemed to be loss.

But the phrase "Biggest Game in Franchise History" was not retired for the season.

Late Friday night the puck dropped in Anaheim. The Predators were granted yet another chance to win the biggest game in franchise history. Jordin Tootoo kicked off his career game with an exceptional move on the two on one rush to feed Kevin Klein for the opening score of the game. 1-0 Preds. No one really thought that would be the game-winning goal and Jason Blake proved everyone right in the second period by banging the puck just past Rinne to tie the score at one. The third period did not start well to put things mildly. Bobby Ryan made a great defensive play and scored on the backhand past Rinne after a couple of posterizing dekes through and behind the stickless David Legwand. Nashville Predator fans did not have to look back past Wednesday night to feel the need to worry. The Predators responded well this time, though with their hard work paying off in the form of a Joel Ward goal. The Predators took one more blow in the stomach as Jason Blake once again found the back of the net, this time off of a spectacular pass from Selanne in the corner. The word resiliency has never ringed so true. With Vezina nominee Pekka Rinne on the bench and the extra-attacker on the ice, Mike Fisher won back the offensive zone faceoff to Cody Franson who slid the puck over to captain Shea Weber who sent a snapshot straight for the twine, tying the game at three. It did not take long for the Nashville to put the exclamation point on the comeback as Jordin Tootoo capped his exceptional game with a spectacular feed to Jarred Smithson who put the puck past Ray Emery and put the Predators up 3-2 in the series.

Pred Nation has never had more of a reason to believe. If the Predators can win a contest such as game five, then they have an even better chance to win game six in front of their home crowd late Sunday afternoon. While the nonbelievers continue to pile on, there has never been so much support for this team both from a local and national standpoint. The Predators have never before been in a position to clinch a playoff series, but they are certainly used to being in "The Biggest Game in Franchise History."

Friday, April 22, 2011

Preds Looking for Different Result in a Familiar Place

The Nashville Predators have played in five game fives in their franchise's short history. They are 0-5 in these games.

Just another monkey to get off their back en route to getting the giant gorilla off of their back, which is winning a playoff series.

The Predators have been the better team in this series but have had two five minute stretches of bad hockey resulting in two losses. Their will be a few people skating around on the ice at the Honda Center in Anaheim come 9 PM central time, but if you truly want to see a battle and a struggle for victory, tune into the Nashville Predators' mindset. The mental war Friday night will largely outweigh any battle for the puck or the inevitable scraps in front of the net. For the Predators to win this game, they have to believe they can win this game. They believed they could win game four until a shorthanded goal by the the Ducks' Corey Perry early in the third period which lead to a 6-3 Anaheim victory Wednesday night to tie the series at two games a piece. Nashville must have a resilient attitude as they have had all year.

The Ducks have regained momentum in a way that I personally did not think was possible. Their dominant third period was just what the doctor ordered for a team that had been dominated just three nights before. They chased Vezina nominee Pekka Rinne with three goals in five minutes and twenty-nine seconds. This is really the first time Rinne has been off his game, letting in relatively soft goals and it is imperative that he bounces back and returns to his MVP form. It will also be interesting to see if Bobby Ryan will immediately compliment Getzlaf and Perry as he has all season. I expect he will. The Nashville defense will have to readjust to the RPG line and be on their best game to stymie the most dangerous line in hockey.

After the shock of Wednesday night, the locker room still sounds positive. After all, the series is tied, and it is now a best of three series. Win two out of three games against a team which you beat three out of four times in the regular season, and you move on to the second round. It all starts Friday night in Anaheim.

I hope just as much as I predict: Predators win 5-3.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Preds Face Desperate Ducks in Game 4

I bet you never thought you would see this image. The city of Nashville is ready and excited. Are the Predators ready? They took a 4-3 victory over Anaheim at Bridgestsone Arena Sunday night on a game winning goal from Mike Fisher.

The Predators are now presented with the opportunity which they had last year- to go up 3-1 in the series on their home ice. They were not ready last year as they were held in check by the Chicago Blackhawks and never won another game in the series.

But there's a different feeling this year.

Fearless captain Shea Weber seems to will this team victory as Tim Tebow did for Florida and as Kobe Bryant does for the Lakers. Weber and his beard will not let his team lie down as they did just a year ago. The Predators have a different attitude in the locker room and a different look on the ice. They are staying true to the Barry Trotz style of play, but there also seems to be more of a commitment to scoring. They have averaged 3.66 goals per game in the series so far while holding the deadly Duck's offense to 3 goals per game. "Predators Hockey" has never looked so pretty.

So can Nashville beat a desperate Ducks team? The Ducks were desperate in game two and took advantage of a flat-footed Predators team and therefore earned a 5-3 win mainly because of strong first period play. But this game is in front of the ruckus Bridgestone Arena crowd which was coined as the loudest building arena in the league when the games matter this much and when the building is packed by TSN's Pierre McGuire. Pred Nation will once again prove to be just that on Wednesday night.

For the Ducks to win this game, they will have to find chemistry. With Bobby Ryan serving the second and final game of his suspension, the RPG line will be broken up again. The Ducks had many quality passes to the slot early in game three that simply went straight to the sideboards due to the lack of chemistry. They also need to rekindle the feeling of desperation which they had in Anaheim for game two. This should not be very difficult considering going down 3-1 in the series is obviously not a good place to be.

For the Predators to win, they must do what they did Sunday night- shoot the puck, crash the net. If execute this then they should easily beat the immobile Emery in net. Nashville's mentality, however, may be the most important factor in Wednesday night's contest. The players should first of all have a game seven mentality. A win results in three chances to win the series. A loss forces Nashville to win another road game and gives all the momentum over to Anaheim. Having this in mind, getting to high or too low after Wednesday night's result could also be detrimental. Easier said than done. The Predators must also believe they can win this game. The Ghost of First Round Failures' Past will certainly creep in many Nashvillian's minds, but the Predators should completely block this out. An inch of doubt gives Anaheim a mile of confidence.

Shea Weber's will to win has been incredible down the stretch for Nashville, and it should continue tonight. Both the Predators fans and the team itself believe this is the year, and that belief holds off the desperate Anaheim Ducks.

Predators win 4-3.

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