The Nashville Predators are one gigantic step closer to atoning for last year’s well-publicized Game 5 collapse after casting the Anaheim Ducks to play the very role the Preds have been trying to forget.
In a game that never saw either side take a two goal lead, it was the Predators who were forced to tie the game late against Ray Emery and the host Ducks. That tying goal was achieved by the best player on the team, gold medalist defenseman Shea Weber. His seeing eye slapper from just inside the blue line went untracked by Emery and into the net with only 36 seconds on the clock to tie the game at 3. The play was set up only after most valuable trade acquisition candidate Mike Fisher dug low and won a faceoff in the attacking zone. Fisher got the puck to Cody Franson, who whipped it over to Weber on the point. The rest, as they say, was history.
Just like Game 5 last year, when Nashville was unable to protect a 4-3 lead at Chicago, with a power play no less, this time it was Nashville who consolidated the late equalizer into an overtime win. Jerred Smithson scored the game winner just 1:57 into overtime. The early ending was similar to Michael Ryder’s OT goal within the first two minutes the night before for Boston.
The Predators continued to win the shots on goal battle, this time outshooting the Ducks 37-26. That brings the series total to 160-136 in favor of the Preds, or about 5 more shots on goal per game. No disrespect to Emery, but if Anaheim makes him face 5 more shots per game than Vezina finalist Pekka Rinne for Nashville, not many times are the Ducks going to take four of seven.
And yet not all is lost for Anaheim. The silver lining is that they are still only down 3-2 and have only played one very good hockey game (Game 4). The offensive talent on that team requires that Nashville stay focused and disciplined if it wants to grab that fourth win, which is always the hardest one to get. Pekka Rinne has not been unbelievable in this series, and so who’s to say Anaheim can’t figure out a way to get even in Nashville on Sunday and bring it back home for a Game 7? And Game 7s are all you can ask for as a team, as they give you that opportunity to advance that all of the prior blood and sweat has been trying to lead up to.
It should also be noted that a first for the Nashville Predators franchise will be achieved Sunday night. Either they will win their first playoff series in team history, or they will advance to the first Game 7 in team history. That’s right, it’s been 5 of 6 and out each time the Preds have made the playoffs, but given that they lead this series 3-2, I highly doubt there will be any happiness in the room if it’s the Ducks moving on to the next round.