The last three weeks have been a historic time in Nashville Predators history as they have entered unchartered territory. Every time you turn around, the team is accomplishing a feat they had never pulled off before.
Before this spring, the Predators had never won a Game 5. Check. They had never won a playoff game in overtime. Check. They had never won a playoff series. Check. And before Saturday, they had never won a game when facing elimination.
Down 3-1 in their second-round series against the NHL’s best, the Preds went into Vancouver and exited with a 4-3 Game 5 victory to stay alive.
“It’s a close team with good chemistry,” goaltender Pekka Rinne said. “Before last night’s game, we talked about playing for each other. We’ve put all of the extra stuff behind us and not think about how our season would end if we lose; everybody realizes that.”
Not only is it a team with great chemistry off the ice, but it is on the ice as well. There is seemingly a new hero each night, and it’s always someone you wouldn’t expect. Nick Spaling scored twice (including the game-winner) in the first-round clincher against Anaheim; Matt Halischuk scored in double overtime of Game 2 in Vancouver; Joel Ward netted a pair of third period goals in Saturday’s Game 5 to help the team extend its season.
“It’s a resilient group and there’s a lot of character in the room,” said Captain Shea Weber. “I think guys are just pushing together in the right direction.”
Weber hopes momentum from Saturday’s win can carry over into Game 6 at home, another do-or-die contest.
“The pressure kind of shifts to (Vancouver) now,” he said. “They are desperate to try to finish us off and we are desperate with our backs against the wall. We’re just going to have fun. We’re working hard and we have to win, but it’s going to be fun.”
Nashville teams in the past couldn’t find playoff success and get over the hump due to various reasons. Head Coach Barry Trotz feels maturity and leadership is a big difference in his teams from previous seasons.
“Our leaders are tremendous leaders,” the Jack Adams finalist said. “It starts with Shea, then Peks and Ryan Suter, and then you add a Mike Fisher to the mix. They are the guys that stir the drink. They are the ones the young guys follow.”
The Preds do have an opportunity to accomplish some more firsts in this series. If they happen to win the next two games, they will have come back from behind to win a series for the first time, as well as have won their first ever Game 7. However, the team isn’t getting ahead of the task at hand – and that’s to take it one game at a time.
“When your backs are against the wall,” Fisher said, “it’s just focusing on the next shift, period and game, and not worried about anything beyond that. Just focus all of your energy and preparation on those things you need to do to win. After that, it comes down to effort, will and executing the game plan.”
No matter what happens from here on out, it’s been an unforgettable spring in Music City. The Preds hope it can last a bit longer.
“There is no quit in this team,” Weber said. “The guys are not ready to go home yet.”
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