Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Roller Coaster Season Part IV: Race To The Finish

We rejoin our team on February 27, 2011. It's an unusually comfortable February Sunday afternoon in the Nashville Area, but its hockey team was in anything but a comfortable position. The Predators' last four contests resulted in a big goose egg in the points column, including an embarrassing 4-0 loss to Columbus and heart-breaking 3-2 defeat to the Dallas Stars. The Mike Fisher experiment is going eh... ok. Fisher has only 1 goal and 2 assists in seven games as a Nashville Predator. So the Predators call on a streaking Milwaukee Admiral- Brentwood native, Blake Geoffrion. Geoffrion is playing his first game in Bridgestone Arena as a Nashville Predator this afternoon against the Columbus Blue Jackets in a game that is as close to a must-win that you can have in February.

Matt Calvert opened up the game's scoring late in the 2nd period with a power play goal and gave Columbus a 1-0 lead. Shea Weber tied it up early in the 3rd and Jonathan Blum gave the Preds a 2-1 lead on his first career NHL goal. Kris Russell, however, subsequently knotted the score at two. After Nashville killed off a late Columbus power play David Legwand corralled a rebound created by a Martin Erat shot and backhanded the Predators to a 3-2 victory. This has been recognized as the number 10 moment in the 2010-2011 season by and rightfully so. Who knew that the Columbus Blue Jackets would ever be of so much importance to the Nashville Predators?

The 3-2 victory sprung the Preds into the month of March in which they posted a record of 10-3-2.

Nashville took down the Canucks in Vancouver on March 3rd. Blake Geoffrion scored the game-winner in the 3-0 victory, and Patric Hornqvist sealed the deal when he stole Dan Hamhuis's wallet, keys, and oh yeah... the puck. He then made a an impressive move to slide the puck past Robero Luongo, and that was all she wrote.

The Predators took on the best the Eastern Conference had to offer on March 17th. They came back to defeat the Boston Bruins 4-3 in overtime. Nashville and Boston went into the 3rd period tied but a Patrice Burgeron goal early in the period put the Bruins up 3-2, and that score held for nine minutes and fifteen seconds. The equalizing tally came with 9:04 left in regulation as David Legwand cleaned up two great chances by Erat and Sergei Kostitsyn by putting the puck past an ill-positioned Tuukka Rask. Shea Weber then put the game away with a slap shot to give Nashville their first overtime win of the season.

And speaking of Shea Weber, how can we discuss Nashville's stretch run without mentioning his "playoff beard." It was a sort of rallying cry for Preds fans "Fear the Beard!" The beard received national attention during the playoffs and was recognized as the most fascinating playoff beard in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs by Yahoo Sports. You could say that Shea Weber's beard got more national media attention in the playoffs that did the Nashville Predators during the entire regular season. You couldn't talk about the Nashville Predators without talking about Shea Weber and Shea Weber's beard.

Anyways... Back to the action.

The next huge win for Nashville came only two days later at home against the hated Detroit Red Wings. The Wings took a 1-0 lead into the locker room after the 1st period but hometown hero Blake Geoffrion tied the game in the 2nd period off of a great centering pass from Patrick Hornqvist. Jonathan Blum then scored the game-winner as he shot a Hornqvist rebound past Jimmy Howard and into the back of the net. Legwand added an empty-netter and the Preds beat their division rival 3-1.

Just over 12 hour later, the Nashville Predators took the ice in Buffalo to try to win back-to-back games against the odds. Rookie, Anders Lindback, got the call in net to try to secure a four point weekend for Nashville. The Predators opened up the scoring on an odd carom off a pass turned shot by Blake Geoffrion. The Sabres however, scored the next three goals, and Nashville was all but done. But Geoffrion jammed the puck between Ryan Miller and the right post to draw the Preds within one goal with under three minutes remaining in the third. Just over a minute later, Sergei Kostitsyn won an offensive zone faceoff back to Cody Franson who took a shot from the point which was deflected in by Geoffrion. Blake Geoffrion's first NHL hat trick could not have come at a more timely moment. Martin Erat did the honors of scoring the game-winning goal just 27 seconds into the overtime period to complete the comeback. This game was coined by many as the Music City Miracle II.

The month of April saw the Predators finally clinch the sought after playoff spot. A 4-1 win over the Blue Jackets at home was the clincher. Like I said earlier- Who knew that the Columbus Blue Jackets would ever be of so much importance to the Nashville Predators? A February win over Columbus started the stretch run and an April victory over Columbus started and finished the furious run by Nashville.

But the Predators were not done turning heads. The best part of the season was still to come- The NHL Playoffs.

Photo Credit: Getty Images via

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Roller Coaster Season Part III: November's Sudden Drop

The date is October 28, 2011. The Nashville Predators are coming off a weekend in which they went 2-0 with wins over Dallas and Tampa Bay. Their record is 5-0-3. Nashville was one of the best in the league, but a tough November awaited them. Nine out of thirteen games in November were to be on the road. But the Predators' problems started during the last two games of October. A 3-0 loss to St. Louis followed by a 5-2 loss to Detroit had Nashville moving in the wrong direction heading into their challenging month of November.

The first road trip and the first four games of the month consisted of trips to Phoenix, Los Angeles, Anaheim, and St. Louis. Nashville dropped three of four games with their one win coming against the Blues in a shootout. They made a quick stop home which resulted in another shootout win against the Blackhawks.

The defining moment in November came on that first trip in Anaheim that saw the Predators drop 5-4 heart breaker. It was a rare back-and-forth game for Nashville. Cal O'Reilly tied the game at four with only 3:47 remaining in the contest. With overtime apparent, the unthinkable happened. Anaheim's Paul Mara slid the puck into a virtually open net past Anders Lindback with 1.7 seconds left. A back-breaking loss for the Preds.

After another loss, this time in Toronto, Nashville was able to string a couple of victories together against Montreal and Carolina. These wins were a result of stellar goaltending by Pekka Rinne allowing one goal combined in those two contests.

The Predators, however, returned to their typical November selves and lost four in a row, including a 2-0 loss to the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets.

After a 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers on the 27th, even the most die-hard Predator fans had their doubts. Nashville compiled a 5-7-2 record in November and were on the outside looking in as far as the playoffs were concerned. Even with over four months in the season remaining, you had to have wondered- Is this a playoff team?

With spotty goaltending and a severe lack of offense at times, the Nashville Predators did not look like a playoff team. A big change was exactly what the doctor was ordering, but would the Predators take the pill and make the necessary moves to be a playoff team? Time would tell.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Roller Coaster Season Part II: Out of the Gates

Any prediction, any preview, and any expectation means nothing. The game is played on the ice and on October 9th, the ice was ready at Bridgestone Arena and so were the Predators.

Nashville started off the season against the high-powered Ducks offense and the solid Jonas Hiller between the pipes. Okay so maybe their offense didn't strike fear into the eyes of defensemen at the beginning of the season, and Hiller wasn't spectacular, but give the Predators credit for capitalizing on team struggling out of the gates.

They started the season with a 4-1 victory, and for the first time in Bridgestone Arena, hands went up... and they stayed there!

This was the first of many high scoring games against Anaheim but the real story that night was not a 1-0-0 record. Pekka Rinne was injured in the 3rd period, and unproven rookie Anders Lindback was forced to step in for the remainder of the contest. Lindback was able to preserve the lead in his first NHL action.

This game marked the first of only 25 regular-season games in which the Predators scored four goals or more. They were 23-0-2 in those contests.

The Nashville Predator's first road game of the season was a tough test to say the least. They traveled to Chicago to take on the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks, and with the rookie, Lindback, making his first NHL start, a Predator victory seemed unlikely. But conquering unlikely tests was a theme of this 2010-2011 Nashville Predator team.

Nashville went into the 3rd period trailing by one goal, but Colin Wilson tied the game at two early in the 3rd and Joel Ward won the game on a power play goal with only 26.7 seconds remaining. Lindback stopped 23 of 25 Chicago shots giving him his first NHL win.

The Predators then went to take down the St. Louis Blues who had also started out strong. Patric Hornqvist scored the deciding goal early in the 2nd period and Nashville was off to a 3-0-0 start.

The next three games found the Nashville Predators having difficulties winning games in overtime. They lost three straight overtime games to the Capitals, Flames, and Penguins. However, you can't complain getting a point out of all three of those games considering the level of competition faced in two of the three opponents faced in that stretch.

Nashville started the season with a 3-0-3 record, making them the last team in the NHL to lose in regulation. But goaltender Pekka Rinne was injured and Matthew Lombardi was out with a mysterious concussion injury. Could the Nashville Predators make this extraordinary start last?

Coming soon: The Roller Coaster Season Part III: November's Sudden Drop.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Roller Coaster Season Part I: All Aboard

The Nashville Predators were coming off the most heartbreaking of losses. Nashville had the Chicago Blackhawks at their mercy in game five, threatening to take a 3-2 series lead back to Bridgestone Arena. But the Predators had hit their glass celing once again. After giving up the tieing goal with only 14 seconds remaining in regulationn, Marian Hossa ended the game in overtime giving the Blackhawks a one game series lead. That one game series lead, however, felt like a four game series lead, and Nashville wasn't able to recover as they fell once again in the 1st round of the playoffs. The Nashville curse once again took hold of the Predators and yet another disappointing post-season lead to a pesimistic offseason.

Will the Predators ever get over the hump?

On June 25 in Los Angeles, California, the 2010-2011 NHL season kicked off (sorta) with the NHL Draft. With the 18th overall selection, the Nashville Predators selected Austin Watson, a right winger out of Ann Arbor, Michgan. Watson brings scoring ability along with playmaking ability. He compiled 34 goals and 34 assists in 68 games with the Peterborough Petes of the OHL in the 2010-2011 season.

Now of course Austin Watson had no impact on the 2010-2011 season for Nashville, but it did kick off the best season in franchise history.

Just a week later, David Poile and the Nashville Predators made a move that everyone hoped for but no one expected.

On July 2nd, Nashville signed free agent Matthew Lombardi. The former Phoenix Coyotes center brought the speed and skill that the Predators needed. Lombardi gave Pred Nation a reason to believe that the power play would be affective. A few hockey writers even gave Nashville a chance to make a deep playoff run or take the central division. Kevin Allen of the USA Today called the Predators a "legitamate Cup contender."

Respect had been hard to come by for the Nashville Predators and their fans but whispers of admiration were in the air around the 2010-2011 Nashville Predators.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Canucks End Historic Predator Run

Home ice advantage has always been huge for the Nashville Predators. They were 24-9-8 in the 2010-2011 regular season season at home. But the unbearable 2-4 home record in this year's playoffs doomed the Predators and sent Vancouver to the conference finals.

Daniel Sedin scored the game-winning goal in the 1st period on the power play. The man-advantage was the result of a beyond borderline on Jordan Tootoo for embelishment, or diving. The Predators, however, have no excuse going 0-5 on the power play. This summarizes the semi-finals for the Predators. Their inability to convert on the man-advantage has haunted them not only in these playoffs but also in recent years.

The Predators lone goal came at 3:31 of the 2nd period when David Legwand somehow found an opening from a terrible angle. The play was reviewed and was deemed a goal.

A missed shot on a 2-1 oppurtunity before the goal celebration had ceased was Nashville's best chance to tie it up in the 2nd.

Mike Fisher squandered a golden chance in the 3rd when he could not coral the pass from the corner. He had the wide open net to shoot at, and most of Bridgestone Arena had already stood up anticipating the equalizer.

Pred Nation came through again with standing ovations and nothing but support for their team. It was by far the loudest I have ever heard inside the arena. No one wanted to see their team's season to end Monday night.

With the Nashville net empty, Shea Weber had a good look at the top right corner of the net but missed high and wide. The horn sounded as yellow towels fell to the ice and the 2010-2011 season had ended.

The Predators saluted their fans at center ice and quickily disappeared into the locker room.

Another season ends in a loss. Only one team can end their season on a win, but having the bitter taste of what could've been never feels good in the summer.

My 3 Stars of the Series: 1. Ryan Kessler
2. Pekka Rinne
3. Roberto Luongo

A season review is coming soon.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Joel Ward Shines; Preds Force Game Six

Joel Ward scored two goals in the Predators 4-3 victory over the Canucks Saturday night in Vancouver, and there have been none more important in his entire career. Ward scored both goals in the 3rd period with the second being the game-winner. He also tallied an assist on the opening score of the game, which was scored by Legwand on a shorthanded breakaway.

Raffi Torres and Ryan Kesler also scored in the first to give Vancouver a 2-1 lead heading into the locker room. David Legwand scored his second goal in the game in a less conventional form. After he gathered the puck behind the net, he flipped it over the goal, and it bounced off of Canuck defenseman Christian Erhoff passed the unsuspecting Luongo into the net. There are no flukey goals in the playoffs. Only rewards for hard work. The Predators gladly accepted this reward, and the game was tied at two.

At 1:14 into the 3rd, Mike Fisher found the afore mentioned Ward who buried the one-timer past Luongo. Jordin Tootoo made his entrance onto the scorecard as he assisted on Ward's game-winner which made the score 4-2. The Canucks carried play from about the six minute mark and were pressuring Pekka Rinne with a good portion of their 34 shots on net. Vancouver finally broke through on a Ryan Kessler shot from the top of the circle resulting in a 4-3 lead for Nashville. Once again, the Predators could not make things easy on themselves, trying to make things as interesting as possible.

But for the first time since 2007, a game five involving the Nashville Predators did not go into overtime. The Vezina candidate, Pekka Rinne, made all the necessary stops and the Predators did a good job of clearing the zone to prevent the Canucks from setting up their offense late in the game with Luongo on the bench for the extra-attacker. The final horn sounded with the scoreboard reading 4-3 in favor of the good guys.

Ryan Kessler continued to be the best player on the ice for Vancouver Saturday night, and the Sedin twins continued to be silent.

The Predators continued their year of firsts by winning an elimination game for the first time in franchise history. This first reinforces Coach Barry Trotz's view of his team as resilient. Never before has a Predator team won with the backs against the wall.

For the Predators to continue their 2011 playoff run, they must win Monday night at home to avoid another first: not winning one game at home in a playoff series.

A win results in the first ever game seven in franchise history.

History will be made no matter the result.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Kesler Dazzles, Vancouver Takes 3-1 Series Lead

At 7:28 of the 3rd period, Ryan Kesler split the defensive pair of Shane O'Brien and Shea Weber and beat Pekka Rinne far side to give the Vancouver Canucks a 3-2 lead.

Cody Franson had previously tied the game at two with a shot from the point that beat Luongo and stuck in the back of the net.

The Bridgestone Arena crowd urged the team to tie the game up with a standing ovation late in the 3rd period, but Henrik Sedin fired the puck into the empty net to sign, seal, and deliver game four.

This marks the first time that the Nashville Predators have lost both game three and four at home.

The home ice advantage that the Predators speak so highly of has seemingly been a non-factor with Nashville playing uninspired hockey at times. The will to win has been at a minimal for a team that had to will its way in to the playoffs. Credit Vancouver. They have forced the Predators off their game and are just a minute away from having sweapt this series.

The Predators however have not been widely outplayed for the most part and are capable of winning game five.

The biggest question is: Do they want it enough?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Predator Way Has Never Been Easy

Fans exited Bridgestone Arena Tuesday night with long faces and a feeling of helplessness. What do the Predators have to do to catch a break? Well If you haven't figured out by now: the Nashville Predators will never have an easy road to success.

The initial expansion that included Nashville was questioned and criticized by many NHL fans and media across North America. Why would the NHL put a team in Tennessee? How will this ever work? The franchise then made its inaugural playoff appearance in 2004 taking a huge step as an organization to gain just a little respect as a team. But three years later, despite the growth in fanbase and the die-hard fans that supported their Predators every night, the Nashville Predators looked to be heading to Hamilton, Ontario in Canada. The NHL had become impatient with Nashville's inability to fill the arena night in and night out, but the Predators faithful would have none of that. On July 19, 2007, Pred Nation came through. A rally held at Bridgestone Arena answered any questions of whether the city of Nashville deserved an NHL franchise.

But the opposition was still there. The Canadian media continued to give Nashville the cold shoulder and often times just ignoring them all together. A team in Nashville, Tennessee could not be taken seriously. As the media continued to turn a blind eye to Nashville, something special was happening. Attendance was going up and the atmosphere was getting better game by game. Music City was slowly and quietly becoming a hockey town.

These playoffs have shed some light on the subject however. Predator fans have been credited by TSN's Farhan Lalji as one of the two loudest buildings in the league. Both TSN and Versus have now carried games in Nashville and have had high praise for Pred Nation. The Predators are also getting some respect. Pekka Rinne, in the shadows for most of the regular season, has now been recognized as what we in Smashville have known all along: one of if not the best goalie of the year. Shea Weber has also flown under the radar in every market not named Nashville and Vancouver. The Norris Trophy nominee and his beard has received national media attention for the leadership shown down the stretch of the regular season and these playoffs. Additionally, both Barry Trotz and David Poile are finalists for the trophies awarded to the best in their respective positions.

So yes, the Predators got a raw deal Tuesday night. Yes, they are down 2-1 in a series against the best team in the NHL. But resiliency says they are only three wins away from the series win. Hard work says who cares who we're playing. The Predator way says anything is possible. It has already shown that earlier in the playoffs when history was made. The Predators are a win away from evening the series, and we all know anything can happen in game five. Anything can happen when Nashville Predator hockey is executed correctly no matter who the opposition may be. Smashville, we must believe as we have all post-season. The team will feed off of that energy and can even the series Thursday night.


Monday, May 2, 2011

They Play Hockey in May?

To say that the Nashville Predators are in unchartered territory is now an understatement.

The Predators and their fans are getting love from the Canadian media and are looking to take their first ever lead in a conference semi-final series.

The experience seems unreal to many die-hard Pred fans who have seen countless first-round failures and an irritatingly large amount of moral victories. A new standard has been set for hockey in Nashville from the on-the-ice performance to the 17,113 that pack Bridgestone Arena when the Predators hit the ice. Nashville will once again take the ice on Tuesday night in front of a sold out Bridgestone Arena in their first home conference semi-final game. The word around Nashville is that the intensity of games goes up the further you go in the playoffs. Predators fans have already witnessed this intensity but only from the friendly confines of the average American couch or perhaps one of the viewing parties around town. But Nashville will finally get to witness conference semi-final action up close and personal on 501 Broadway. The gold out will be in full effect with a chance of catfish and standing ovations when the Canucks come to visit Tuesday night.

Predator fever has even extended outside of Bridgestone Arena. Over the past two weeks, I have seen more Predators gear than ever before. I never thought I would see so many bandwagon fans either. Never before has there been a reason to jump on the Nashville Predator bandwagon. But more importantly, the interest in hockey has grown across the mid-state. The popularity of ice and inline hockey leagues have grown over the past few years. Tennessee ranks 4th in the nation in increase of USA Hockey registrations over the past 10 years. The popularity of hockey in middle Tennessee will only go up from here, already at it's peak.

The Nashville Predators are carrying a city that just 11 years ago did not know the difference between a hockey puck and a burnt biscuit and could not correctly pronounce the name Patrick Roy. The city has bought in to hockey and the Nashville Predators and is now behind them in their quest for The Cup. The glass ceiling has been raised. The question is if the Predators can once again rise and shatter that ceiling placed on them by low expectations and going up against the Goliath of the NHL Playoffs in the Vancouver Canucks.

If you're heading to Bridgestone Arena Tuesday night in hope of an offensive, high-scoring hockey game then you might want to sell your ticket. Just make sure it finds its way to a Predators fan with an able and ready voice.