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

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