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playoffs

Bold trades paying off for Predators in playoffs

Additions of Ryan Johansen, P.K. Subban key to defeating Blues, reaching first conference final

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor

NASHVILLE -- David Poile had to think about it for a moment, because he's waited for this moment for so long.

Poile just finished watching the Nashville Predators, the team he has been general manager for since their inception in the NHL in 1998-99, reach the Western Conference Final for the first time.

Poile has selected every player the Predators have ever drafted, traded for every player, signed every free agent, done everything for Nashville, which has now gone farther in the Stanley Cup Playoffs than it ever has.

 

[RELATED: Complete Predators vs. Blues series coverage | Nashville parties after Predators' Game 6 win against Blues]

 

He needed some time to put all that into words.

"I don't know if I can feel much better," Poile said.

It did not take him nearly as long to realize he had in fact made a mistake.

"I know how I can feel much better; you win the next round and the next round," Poile said. "But for this franchise, it's a step at a time, so this is fantastic."

The Predators defeated the St. Louis Blues 3-1 in Game 6 of the Western Conference Second Round on Sunday to win the best-of-7 series 4-2, erasing the memories of losing Game 7 of the second round last season 5-0 to the San Jose Sharks.

If this win feels good to Poile, it should. Because he made two of the boldest trades we have seen in the NHL in years in order to make it happen.

On Jan. 6, 2016, Poile traded defenseman Seth Jones, who he drafted with the No. 4 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, to the Columbus Blue Jackets for center Ryan Johansen, the No. 4 pick in the 2010 draft.

Video: STL@NSH, Gm6: Johansen nets backhand on the rush

The Predators needed a top line center and had an abundance of talent on defense, so Poile addressed a need.

All Johansen did Sunday was score the game-winning goal at 3:15 of the third period, an elite skill play where he took a saucer pass from right wing Viktor Arvidsson and deked around Blues goalie Jake Allen at top speed to score his first goal of the series.

It was a play you need from a big, top line center. It was a play the Predators might not have gotten if anyone but Johansen was there to make it.

"[Johansen] is our most important guy," said defenseman Roman Josi, who tied the game 1-1 with a goal 35 seconds into the second period. "Every time he's going, the team is playing well."

Video: STL@NSH, Gm6: Josi finishes Ekholm's pinpoint feed

Six months after the Johansen trade, on June 29, Poile traded Predators captain and top defenseman Shea Weber to the Montreal Canadiens for defenseman P.K. Subban, doubling down on Nashville's speed and skill to create the most mobile defense in the NHL.

Subban was big in Game 1 of the series with a goal and two assists, but from Game 2 on, Subban and Mattias Ekholm were given the task of facing Blues top scorer Vladimir Tarasenko.

Tarasenko had two goals and an assist in the series, but by and large was kept in check.

"The one thing that I do relish in these big games is getting the opportunity to play against the other team's top line," Subban said. "I know that when I'm getting those opportunities I'm doing my job."

Subban might have been brought in to add to what was already an offensively gifted defense, but it was his play in his own end that mattered most when it counted.

"From a numbers standpoint of where the game is being played they've been terrific," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "On a lot of nights we'll give them to the big bodies. Not necessarily the top scorer, but the bigger bodies, heavier players that can still produce high offense. They've been excellent all year."

Subban and Johansen are two of the nine players Poile traded for who have played in these playoffs for the Predators, another 13 players were drafted and three were signed as free agents. The Predators had an identity as a grinding, defensive team for years, but it was Poile who changed their direction when he replaced Barry Trotz with Laviolette in 2014 and began making this a faster, offensive-minded and exciting team.

"I saw him right after the game and you could see his expressions and emotions pretty clear," said goaltender Pekka Rinne, who is in his ninth season as the Predators starter and longest-standing player on the team. "It was a pretty big moment for him, I'm sure. I've played here all my career and I've been just a minor part, he's been here for a long, long time. He's done a great job."

The end result of the job Poile has done, the transformation he has masterminded, is that not only are the Predators better because they play a winning style that is well suited for today's game, but Nashville has never been as excited about the Predators as it is right now.

Poile was here when it was not like this in Nashville, when Bridgestone Arena was not among the loudest buildings in the NHL, when Predators jerseys and signs and flags were not all over the city like they are now.

"I mean, just the whole atmosphere, not only on the ice but off the ice," Poile said, shaking his head. "This franchise is special right now."

And there is one man more than any other that has made it that way. 

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