It's April 28th. The phrase "unmarked territory" is now a dime a dozen around the Nashville Predator fanbase. While overused, the phrase is extremely correct as Nashville is about to play its first ever game in the 2nd round. The Preds are facing the Vancouver Canucks, winners of the Presidents Trophy and the odds on favorite to raise Lord Stanley. Vancouver is coming off of an emotional game seven victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. The Canucks nearly choked a 3-0 series lead but scored 5:22 into the first overtime period to put away the defending champions.
Game 1 in Vancouver was one of the most painful games to watch for Pred fans in a while. Pekka Rinne was playing out of his mind after a 1st round that saw the Predators' goaltender off his usual game at times. The Canucks piled on the chances on the power play in the first and most of the second period. Rinne had managed to smother them all until Chris Higgins found the back of the net on a goal which was initially waved off. 1-0 Vancouver at the end of two. During the first two periods, the Nashville Predators did not belong on the same sheet of ice as the Canucks. They turned it around in the third but were still unable to tally. The best chance came on a Mike Fisher short-handed breakaway. The Canucks lead 1-0 when the final horn sounded and led the series by that same score.
Game 2 was met with questions regarding the Nashville Predators' ability to win even a game against Vancouver. And the way the Canucks dominated every aspect of game 1, could you blame them? The Predators came to play, however, and had some great chances in the first period but Roberto Luongo stopped all 12 shots. Rinne was solid and stopped the Canucks' six shots in the first. Nashville had an early second period power play, but it was the Canucks that tallied on this power play. Sergei Kostitsyn turned the puck over in the neutral zone, and Alex Burrows didn't waste the opportunity. 1-0 Canucks. The Preds continued their offensive onslaught but still were unable to find a way to beat the Vezina Trophy candidate, Luongo. But finally with just over a minute left in regulation with Rinne headed to the bench for the extra attacker, Ryan Suter banked a shot off of the leg of Luongo into the net. In the first overtime, Pekka Rinne was the star once again making amazing save after amazing save and forcing a second overtime. After more fireworks from Pekka Rinne, Nick Spaling found Matt Halischuk who found the spot between Luongo's left shoulder and the crossbar. 2-1 Preds win. Series tied 1-1.
The Nashville Predators were welcomed home to a deafening and blinding crowd. For the first time ever, a Western Conference Semi-Final game was to be played in Nashville and Bridgestone Arena. David Legwand opened up the scoring in the first period on a shorthanded goal. Joel Ward found Legwand in the slot on a delayed Vancouver penalty, and Leggy had the wide open net and the Predators led by one. Luongo stopped a Steve Sullivan breakaway chance late in the first and that's how the period would end. The Canucks had an early power play chance and converted just a minute into the second period on the stick of Ryan Kesler. This goal was the start of Kesler's dominance for the rest of the series. Nashville had the best chance in the same period just as the second came to a close but were unable to break the tie. Chris Higgins was able to break the tie at 3:03 of the third period. Pekka Rinne was forced out of the net and Higgins put it in the virtually empty net. With 6:42 left in the third period, Joel Ward found a way past Luongo on the wrap around, and we were headed to overtime again. About midway through the OT period, Shea Weber was called for a very controversial hooking penalty on Ryan Kesler. Kesler then of course tipped in the game-winning goal to give Vancouver the 2-1 series lead.
Bridgestone Arena was fired up for game 4 on Wednesday, May 5th. The intro video was drowned out by 17,113 chanting "Let's go Predators!" But it was Vancouver that struck first. Christian Erhoff blasted a shot from the point late in the opening period to put the Canucks on top. Pekka Rinne wanted a goalie interference call but did not get it. The first period would not end that way, however. Joel Ward set up shop in front of Luongo and jammed home a power play goal to tie the game at one. Midway throught the second period, Alexander Edler broke the tie with a slap shot from the point that made it through traffic past Rinne. The Predators once again showed their resiliency as Cody Franson fired a slap shot past Luongo to tie the game for the second time of the game with 3:27 gone in the third period. But the Canucks proved to be too much for Nashville as Ryan Kesler split the Nashville defense in impressive fashion and beat Rinne for the game-winner. Henrik Sedin added a empty netter, and Vancouver took a 3-1 series lead.
Game 5 in Vancouver. The Canucks will surely finish off the Predators at home, right? Wrong. David Legwand set the tone with a shorthanded breakaway goal just 3:42 into the game. But Raffi Torres tied the game due to a bad turnover by Jonathan Blum and Ryan Kesler gave Vancouver the lead on a 2 on 1 rush. Under a minute into the second, David Legwand flipped the puck over the net, off of Alexander Edler, and into the net. Tie game. The third period belonged to Joel Ward. His two goals put up 4-2. Kesler cut the lead in half late in the period but Nashville was able to hang on and pull within one game of the series. This was Nashville's first win facing elimination. This win will provide future confidence for the Predators, knowing that they can win with their backs against the wall.
Game 6 saw new hope for the Predators. Two wins in a row and Nashville would be moving on to the conference finals. Vancouver had something to say about that as they jumped out to a 2-0 lead with Mason Raymond and Daniel Sedin doing the honors. The Nashville Predators could seemingly get nothing done. They went into the locker room trailing by that same score and almost went into the locker room again down by that score. David Legwand prevented that by firing a puck at the net from a bad angle that found its way past the goal line. The Predators missed on multiple chances after that goal both in the second and third period. Nashville's last push saw Shea Weber getting his shots from the point but none could find the back of the net. Game. Series. Season. But it wasn't the end of a normal season. A historic season. Much was accomplished and much is to be accomplished by the Nashville Predators.
Well thank you for joining me on this journey through the ups and downs of the 2011-2011 season. This has been my own way of extending the season and the memories. Here are some important dates during the summer for the Nashville Predators and the rest of the NHL. I will be rejoining you soon but this puts a cap on this season.
Photo Credit: www.nashvillepredatorsfansite.com