Monday, 22 May 2017

Predators Feast On Ducks

I don't eat a lot of duck. Besides me not being particularly fond of removing majestic waterfowl from our wetlands for conservation reasons, I simply have no interest in buying the meat. That being said, it seems that Nashville has acquired a taste for duck after sending the Anaheim Ducks back to California with nothing to show for their cross-country migrations. Nashville will make their first Stanley Cup appearance in franchise history after downing the Ducks in six games, but this should have been expected after the first few minutes in Game Six.

It didn't start well for the Ducks when Austin Watson banked a shot in off Brandon Montour's skate 81 seconds in.

With the insanity sparked early at Bridgestone Arena, the Smashville fans really got on Jonathan Bernier.
From there, former Milwaukee Admirals captain Colton Sissons elevated his play after being promoted to the top line as he notched his first career hat-trick in helping lead the Predators over the Ducks in six games to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. Anaheim's Cam Fowler had tied the game at 3-3 with 11:08 to go in the third period, but it was Sissons' dagger with 6:00 to play that gave Nashville the lead they would never relinquish. Two empty-net goals later, and the crowd in Nashville nearly blew the lid off the arena.

"It feels so good," Sissons said in a post-game on-ice interview. "Listen to this crowd. Our fans are amazing, a great group of guys. We just believe in ourselves. That's all it is."

Peter Laviolette will now see the Stanley Cup Final with a third team, becoming the fourth coach to achieve that dubious distinction and the first since 1994. For Laviolette, he's 1-1 in Stanley Cup Final, winning with Carolina in 2006 and losing to Chicago in 2010 while with Philadelphia. He joins Dick Irvin, Scotty Bowman, and Mike Keenan in that highly-regarded group, but Laviolette had a much different view on his "success".

"Probably means that I got fired a lot," Laviolette joked. "I'm fortunate to be here working and fortunate David Poile gave me a job. And when you do that, you're not thinking about things like that, you're just thinking about coming to work."

Is there any doubt that the blue-collar approach that Laviolette takes to his job hasn't rubbed off on all his players? You can certainly point to the fact that Nashville arguably has the best top-four defencemen in the NHL along with an elite netminder who can steal games when needed, but they also have four lines that can play whatever style of game they are asked to play. Whether it be a scoring role, a checking role, a grinding role, or anything else, Colton Sissons is the personification of this hard-working, do-whatever-it-takes team when it comes to their success. Normally a third-line centerman behind Ryan Johansen and Mike Fisher, Sissons jumps to the top line and bags a hat-trick. Not bad for the kid's first spotlight moment of the playoffs!

While it certainly can be said that the strong Nashville defence deserves some consideration for the Conn Smythe Trophy, I'd be inclined to look deeper in the zone at Pekka Rinne. Rinne was outstanding in this series just as he's been all playoffs as he stands with a 12-4 record. He stopped 172 of 186 shots in the six games, including 38 of 41 when Anaheim looked like they were gaining momentum throughout Game Six. His rebound control has been outstanding throughout the three series, and he handles the puck in his own zone like a third defenceman, often looking like he's daring forecheckers to try and take the puck from him. Had it not been for some incredible goaltending from Rinne in the first and second periods, we might be talking about a Game Seven right now. He's earning his keep in these playoffs without doubt.

And let's not forget the ever-present Sixth Man in Nashville. The fans are rabid about hockey in Nashville, and they party from morning until, well, next game. From celebrity anthem signers to celebrity towel wavers to the mass of fans that assemble outside to watch on the big screen, the atmosphere in Nashville may be unmatched in these playoffs. The "All Your Fault" chant shows how into the game these fans are, and they're serving notice that Nashville's barn is one of the hardest places for opposition teams to play. As Anaheim head coach Randy Carlyle stated last week, "You see these elderly women out there with a sledge hammer taking a pounding at a car that's got a Ducks logo on it... those are the kinds of things you look to, that passion that's been developed in their market."

There was some worry in the building when the Ducks began to chip away at the lead, but it seemed to evaporate with Sissons' hat-trick goal to give the Predators the 4-3 lead. From there, it was effort and fan support that carried the Predators into the Stanley Cup Final as the Ducks couldn't muster another goal in their comeback. While I wouldn't say that Nashville was the favorite going into the series with the Pacific Division champions, the early goal tonight followed by the solid team effort to stake the Predators to a lead had to have the Ducks worried. By the time the final horn sounded, it turned out that their goose was cooked.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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