Though Nashville had the chance to punch their ticket to the Western Conference Finals on Friday night, perhaps they purposefully lost that game just so they could seal the deal at home… one can dream, right? Whether that was Nashville’s original intent (wink, wink) or not, the Predators managed to fight off the feisty St. Louis Blues with a 3-1 win to take the series and advance to the third round, the first time in franchise history.
But let’s be honest; it wasn’t exactly the prettiest advancement ever. St. Louis wasn’t going to go down without a fight, and that was proven in Game 5 on Friday. Nashville’s performance in Game 5 was evidently still present in the first period, as the boys in gold had more issues than one, including connections on passes among other things. The first period would end with St. Louis up 1-0, thanks to an earlier wrister from Paul Stastny.
Perhaps Nashville just needed the first period to collect themselves (or Laviolette peeled the paint off the walls during that first intermission), but the Predators looked much more uniformed in the second period. Roman Josi would tie the game at 1-1 and put the home team on the board just 35 seconds into the second period. his fourth of the playoffs. Both teams would hang onto that tying score into the third period.
You know that whole “win a period, win the game” scenario? Yeah, that’s what both teams faced going into the third period. It came down to who was more desperate, to be honest. Another paint peeling by Laviolette set Nashville off on fire, with Ryan Johansen scoring his second goal of the playoffs, giving both the Predators and the home fans something to get extra loud about (along with a 2-1 lead).
Straying just a bit off topic, it is a beautiful thing to hear NHL bigwigs and announcers compliment Nashville and its fans; especially on how loud the Bridgestone Arena can get. I’ve sort of summed it up this way: When you combine a bunch of SEC football fans together, it can get a bit deafening. This is a predominately college football fan region; if you get a bunch of Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, Florida, Ole Miss, etc. fans loving a unifying sport, it’s going to get loud. College football fans – especially those in favor of the Southeastern Conference – are a unique breed, and hooking them on a game like hockey? It’s bound to be wild.
Back to the game at hand, and with the fans backing them from that point on, Nashville held their own, regaining the confidence expected of a team up 3-2 in a series. Holding onto Johansen’s one goal lead, the Predators would hang on from that point on until Calle Jarnkrok’s empty-netter goal with one minute remaining.
For the first time in franchise history, the Nashville Predators have advanced to the Western Conference finals… and the city’s heart is on fire for this team. The amount of support the Predators have received during these playoffs is outstanding. Between the celebrity sightings, the Titans players getting “hype” for their fellow professional sportsmen, to the all-star anthem performances, it’s been phenomenal for this team and its city. And for all those fans who couldn’t get a ticket tonight? There were hundreds stationed outside the arena watching on a jumbo screen. Let’s also not forget who came out to pump up the crowd and team before puck drop tonight…
Whether you’ve been faithful since the beginning in 1998 or you are just entering the hockey atmosphere, be proud, Preds fans. Be proud of this team and what they have overcome to get here. 16th out of 16 teams and they are the first to advance to the conference finals? That’s playoff hockey for you, baby. Nothing is given. Anything can happen.
Since the Oilers just defeated the Ducks 7-1 to force a Game 7 in the series, it’ll be interesting to see who Nashville will end up facing in the conference finals. So here’s the question: Who would you rather face? The young, spritely team lead by McJesus or Ryan Kessler?
Carter Hutton told Pekka Rinne during handshakes: “Go all the way, buddy.”