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After down season, Predators' Wilson steps up

Nashville forward scores tying goal in Game 1 win against Anaheim

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Director of Editorial

ANAHEIM -- Confidence plays a huge part in the ability to score goals in the NHL, especially in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Often, you have to believe you can score before it actually happens. On the other hand, doubt can be kryptonite to a goal-scorer. An inkling of apprehension can be the difference between finding and not finding the tiny openings provided by NHL goalies.

Nashville Predators center Colin Wilson believed he still could score goals, even when everyone else doubted it because he scored six in 64 games this season, one after Feb. 27.

He remembered his 20-goal season in 2014-15 and believed better times were around the corner.

Those better times arrived at Honda Center on Friday, when Wilson scored in the second period to tie Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round series against the favored Anaheim Ducks for the final time, helping rally the Predators to a 3-2 victory.

"I had some good games throughout the year; I just couldn't get a string of them together to get that momentum," Wilson said. "I liked how I was playing at the end of the year. I didn't have a lack of confidence."

Not many others liked the way Wilson was playing. His slump was one of the major story lines for the Predators down the stretch of the regular season. Everyone wanted to know what was wrong with the first-round pick from the 2008 NHL Draft.

But Wilson kept the faith through the struggles.

He knew that he could wipe the slate clean come the postseason. He believed he could draw on the five goals he had in a first-round loss to the Chicago Blackhawks last year. He believed he could help the Predators push the Pacific Division champions to the wall, and perhaps beyond, in the first round this year.

"When it's the postseason, all you are trying to do is score a goal for your team and get a hit for your team," Wilson said. "It becomes a little bit simpler. It's just an exciting time of year."

Video: NSH@ANA, Gm1: Wilson uses one hand to tip puck home

Wilson certainly didn't lack confidence on his goal, which came at 7:55 of the second. He skated furiously up the ice after a turnover to present an option to defenseman Ryan Ellis, getting behind Anaheim's Cam Fowler.

Wilson screamed he was open at the top of his lungs as he gained some space.

"Did I yell?" he said when told his pleas for the puck were heard in the press box. "I remember yelling, but I didn't know how loud it was; definitely let him know I was driving through."

Ellis heard him and offered up a hopeful through pass for Wilson as he skated toward the Anaheim net.

"He had a lot of speed there, and I just wanted to get it to him to reward him for his hard work," Ellis said.

Neither one could believe what happened next. Wilson reached out with one hand on his stick, got the blade on the puck and changed its direction enough to get it past a befuddled John Gibson, the Ducks goalie.

"I was just trying to get it on net. I don't know if it went short side or where," Wilson said, smiling at the memory of the lunge. "I just tried to get my stick on it and redirect it."

Ellis said: "That's a goal-scorer's goal; one hand on the stick and redirect it into the net. It was a great play by him; he was calling for it. I just wanted to get it into the middle to give him a chance."

The goal took a bit of starch out of the Ducks, who were flying high after the go-ahead goal by center Ryan Kesler 48 seconds into the period. Anaheim never looked fully comfortable after Wilson's goal.

Forward Filip Forsberg put the Predators ahead for good at 10:25 of the third, his speculative pass bouncing off Anaheim defenseman Shea Theodore's skate and past Gibson.

The Predators held on for the win and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.

Now, they will look to maintain their confidence and win another here in Game 2 on Sunday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports, FS-TN, FS-W).

"We know they are going to buckle down, so we are going to have to play the same way and maybe even harder," Wilson said.

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