Sunday, May 7, 2017

Simply Smashville: Predators Reach First Conference Final

It's been a long time coming. 19 seasons, if you're scoring at home, but the wait is over in Nashville, as the Predators reached their first Western Conference final by clinching their best-of-7 series with the St. Louis Blues in six games on Sunday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

More Saucer Passes: Caps Dominating Fancy Stats But Holtby Hurts

The Predators battled back from a 1-0 deficit, scoring three unanswered goals to raise the roof at Bridgestone Arena and validate the savvy moves of GM David Poile, who swung big deals to land top center Ryan Johansen and defenseman P.K. Subban last year.

Those deals have paid huge dividends for Nashville, as Johansen has led the team's top line and Subban has raised him game in the playoffs, playing shutdown defense with his partner Mattias Ekholm.

Nashville trailed after one, but surged early in the second as Ekholm saucered a perfect pass to Roman Josi, who took the cross-ice feed and rifled home his fourth goal of the playoffs from just below the left face-off circle to tie it at 1-1. Nashville's defense has now been involved in 15 of the team's last 19 goals, and the blue line has produced nine goals this postseason, tops in the NHL.

The Predators also took the initiative early in the third when Viktor Arvidsson saucered a nice feed to Johansen on a two-on-one and the Predators' center deked and slid his second goal of the playoffs past Jake Allen to give Nashville a 2-1 lead at 3:15. Calle Jarnkrok added the empty netter 19:00 of the third to put the game out of reach.

Nashville has now won eight of ten games in the playoffs and they have allowed just 14 goals in those games.

The Predators are now 4-0 in elimination playoff games played at home.

Their were many heros for Nashville, none bigger than their goaltender.

Pekka Rinne finished the game with 23 saves on 24 shots. The 34-year-old Finn has been absolutely on fire in these playoffs with two shutouts and a .951 save percentage which leads all goalies.

Since 1968 only one goalie that played seven games or more has finished a playoff season with a save percentage higher than that -- Rogie Vachon, who had a .953 save percentage while sharing the net with Gump Worsley for the Canadiens during their 1969 Cup run.

"Right now it means everything," said Rinne. "Like I said before we haven't gone further than this. It's a great feeling. ... We all know that we have what it takes and everything is in our hands. It's a good feeling -- it's why you play this game."

"He was unbelievable again," said Josi in the locker room after the game. "Probably every game he was our best player and he was our best player tonight again."

Rinne added an assist on Jarnkrok's empty netter, giving him three for the playoffs.

"He's so confident back there," said Josi. "He's confident in making saves and he's confident in passing the puck. He's been unbelievable for us."

Rinne entered this post season with a .912 lifetime save percentage in the playoffs to go with a 2.51 GAA and one shutout. Thus far in 2017 he has a 1.37 GAA and two shutouts to go with his .951 save percentage. But he'll have to continue his stellar play for the predators to reach their first Stanley Cup final. They'll fave the winner of Wednesday's Game 7 between the Oilers and Ducks in the Western Conference Final.

"He's obviously the biggest reason we are moving to the third round," said Johansen. "And he's going to have to keep playing that way, too. He's the backbone of our club, we've said that all year."