2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – First Round Series Recap
Western Conference Quarterfinals Game 5 - Nashville 4, Anaheim 3 (OT) – Predators lead series, 3-2
How do you spell “potential catharsis?” N-A-S-H-V-I-L-L-E.
Amazingly yet improbably, a hard-luck franchise just might have found the kind of turning-point moment it’s been seeking throughout its existence. Friday night at the Honda Center in Anaheim, the Nashville Predators produced the improbable postseason victory they simply hadn’t been able to claim in seasons past. Now, opportunity beckons for the organization that has spent so many years in the sport’s wilderness.
It was just last year that Nashville experienced what was its toughest loss as a franchise. In Game 5, the Preds led the Chicago Blackhawks by one goal in the final minute of regulation. Coach Barry Trotz’s team was just about to win a Game 5 for the first time ever. The Preds were about to win three games in a series for the first time ever. They were about to stand on the brink of winning a series for the first time ever.
And then it happened: Despite being on the power play, the Predators allowed a short-handed goal to the Blackhawks, who then won in overtime to take a 3-2 lead in the series. That memory haunted a Nashville club which lost the series in Game 6 a few days later. Once again, the team from the state of Tennessee had failed to win a series, all because of its pronounced penchant for flinching in times of prosperity.
Now, that bitter taste could be washed away, because roughly 12 months after that heartbreak against Chicago, the Preds have reversed roles against the shellshocked Anaheim Ducks.
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The scene was plain and powerful on the West Coast late Friday night: In a wild third period when Anaheim’s Bobby Ryan scored one of the best goals in the long and storied history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs – a dazzling three-fake masterpiece of stickhandling that juked out two defenders and Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne – Anaheim scratched out a late 3-2 lead thanks to a goal by Jason Blake with 5:44 remaining in regulation time. The Ducks, who won the Cup in 2007 and have been accustomed to playoff pressure, were chewing away the clock. Anaheim was closing in on a victory that would have put Nashville in a very familiar situation.
Yet, just when the outlook seemed particularly bleak for the Preds, they managed to do what Chicago did to them a year ago… minus the shorthanded goal.
Shea Weber, after teammate Mike Fisher won a face-off, blasted a shot past a tangle of bodies. Anaheim goalie Ray Emery was screened, and the puck found the upper right-hand corner of the net with 35.3 seconds left on the clock. Nashville had escaped its place of peril, and when Jerred Smithson lit the lamp just 1:57 into overtime on a point-blank shot set up by a pass from Jordin Tootoo, Nashville had finally crossed a few of the thresholds it had failed to conquer in past seasons. Now, the Preds have to take that one additional step. If they can, a city starved for its first playoff series win will explode with glee.
By: Matt Zemek
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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