Image Source: Frederick Breedon/Getty Images
Wow. Honestly, I am not sure what else to say regarding last night/this morning’s Game 4 between the Nashville Predators and the San Jose Sharks. Up 2-1 in the series, the Sharks were hoping to go up 3-1 before heading back to San Jose for Game 5 but… Nashville had other ideas. Mainly, it came down to a goaltender showdown. Who was going to break first: Rinne or Jones? Well, it would take until 1AM before one finally crashed. A game full of controversy, rage, and excitement, I will say this game, even if Nashville doesn’t get beyond the second round, will be remembered and talked about for years to come.
After being healthy scratched on Tuesday night, Mike Ribeiro found himself sitting out again for last night’s game. Ribeiro is consistent with inconsistency and the playoffs are no place for reckless passes and puck-handling. After dismantling the Sharks 4-1 on Tuesday, it was no surprise that Ribeiro was scratched for Thursday night’s game.
Playoff Wilson wasted no time putting his team on the board, scoring the fastest goal in Preds playoff history at 41 seconds into the game. This was Wilson’s fourth goal of the playoffs; he only notched six during the regular season. Over the last few playoff runs, Wilson has essentially “emerged from his cocoon”, blossoming into a beautiful playoff butterfly. Yes, I enjoy comparing Colin Wilson to a butterfly. There’s no way to really explain why he does this, but no one is complaining; his push and effort has gotten Nashville to where it is now.
Three minutes later, Brett Burns would tie the game at 1-1 for his third goal of the playoffs. But at 9:50, Mike Fisher would give Nashville the lead again for his third goal of the playoffs. Similar to Wilson, Fisher has been a consistent factor in Nashville’s playoff push this year.
San Jose would control the second period with Joonas Donskoi tying the game 2-2 in one of the more controversial calls of the night and possibly of the playoffs. While it looked like Joel Ward was offside (which he was and that is all Preds fans saw), as the NHL Situation Room explains in the tweet below, the Sharks tagged up and entered the attack zone legally, thus wiping out Ward’s offside. Despite the explanation, that did not change the feelings amongst the fans inside (and those watching on TV) the Bridgestone Arena.
Brett Burns would give San Jose the lead at 6:48 in the third, quieting the Nashville crowd… but not for long. Both Rinne and Jones would bend over backwards, stopping both teams from further advancing until 15:39 when James Neal would tie the game 3-3.
By the way, James Neal may have the best facial expressions in the league. There’s no poker face for this guy. Neither team would be able to top the tie, leading to the first OT for both teams during this series. If you believe that stats determine everything, then you would have left the arena before the start of OT – if you were a Predators fan, that is. That’s because Nashville has never won a home overtime game during the franchise’s history of playoffs. But there’s a first time for everything and fans (and the organization) were ready to give it a shot.
First OT… Second OT… Third OT… This was truly – as mentioned previously – a battle between two outstanding goaltenders. It really was a shame to think, while experiencing the game, that one of those goaltenders would ultimately lose. As one overtime would come and another would go, the crowd at Bridgestone Arena would hold tight despite the ever-present knowledge that work was approaching fast. If you were anything like me, I was counting each time it hit on the 30s how many hours I’d have left to sleep before having to get up for work. Both Nashville and San Jose would get there chances, including the waved-off goal in the first OT when the officials deemed goaltender interference. Again, a good call, though San Jose would probably beg the differ.
Finally, shortly after 1AM at 11:12 in the third OT, Mike Fisher finally said “I’m ready to go to bed” by slipping the puck past Martin Jones for the game winning goal. If you were not there to witness the eruption from both the Predators bench and the crowd, I cannot begin to tell you how amazing and electric the atmosphere was. It truly can be considered Nashville’s greatest sports moment thus far (aside from the Music City Miracle, of course). Most certainly in the last decade.
Pure elation from both the fans and the players; it was amazing. I’m honestly not sure how to truly describe it. I feel as if this game was not only a great representation of the strength and endurance of the Nashville Predators, but also its fan base as well. There’s no doubting Nashville is the biggest underdog in the entire playoffs amongst all of the teams left competing for the Cup. But that’s the beautiful thing about being a “non-traditional” hockey market; the passion is unique and powerful as we try to prove that we – the fans and the organization – deserve to be where we are; contending for the Stanley Cup. Whether Nashville takes this series or not, there is no doubt that the league will remember this game; that fans of other teams will take a moment to consider Nashville’s hockey legitimacy. As a fan I am happy to say that we are proud people, us Predators fans. We are passionate, we are fiery, and we are hopeful. And you can continue to deny our presence, but you will never shatter our passion for the game of hockey in Nashville, Tennessee.