Home ice huge for Predators in Game 3 win against Ducks
Tenth straight playoff victory for Nashville at Bridgestone Arenaby Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist
NASHVILLE -- James Neal couldn't help but laugh.
The Nashville Predators had played in the biggest sporting event ever held in their city, Game 3 of the Western Conference Final at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday, and defeated the Anaheim Ducks 2-1 on a power-play goal by defenseman Roman Josi with 2:43 to go.
They had taken a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series, with Game 4 here on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
They were 6-0 at home in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and on a 10-game home winning streak in the playoffs dating to last year. It is the longest home winning streak in the playoffs since the Detroit Red Wings won 10 in a row in 1997 and '98, before the Predators began playing in the NHL.
[RELATED: Complete Predators vs. Ducks series coverage]
Country star Keith Urban had sung the national anthem, told NBCSN it was one of the proudest moments of his life and watched the game in a suite with his wife, actress Nicole Kidman. Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota and his offensive linemen were part of another gold-clad, catfish-throwing, towel-waving, loud-and-proud crowd and …
Well, Neal was asked, did he feel there was magic here?
"I don't know if there's magic here or not," Neal said after a moment. "But we're trying to make some magic."
This isn't a story of pixie dust and hocus pocus. This is a story of patience, perseverance and persistence.
The Predators have been in the NHL for 18 seasons. They have made the playoffs 10 times in the past 13 seasons. They have made Bridgestone Arena an incredible place to play for years.
Video: ANA@NSH, Gm3: Josi buries PPG for late lead
Finally, for the first time, they're in the conference final. The Titans have played in the AFC Championship Game twice, in the 1999 and 2002 seasons, but both were on the road. They played in Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta.
Never before had Nashville hosted an event like this.
"Everyone says their fans are great, but this is a whole different level of support," Neal said. "The city, it's on fire."
The Predators dominated Tuesday. In one stretch from the first period into the second, they outshot the Ducks 21-1. They outshot them in the game 40-20. They had 75 shot attempts in all situations, the Ducks 38.
It might have looked bad 15:35 into the second, when Ducks forward Corey Perry shot the puck from behind the goal line and banked it off the inside of the right pad of goaltender Pekka Rinne. The power-play goal gave the Ducks a 1-0 lead.
It might have looked worse early in the third, when the game was tied 1-1 and the Predators had two goals disallowed in nine seconds. First, forward Colton Sissons put the puck into the net at 6:24, only to have it waved off because forward Harry Zolnierczyk fell onto goaltender John Gibson. Then, center Ryan Johansen put the puck into the net at 6:33, only to have it waved off because defenseman Mattias Ekholm ran over Gibson.
But it wasn't bad at all.
"It was almost a good thing," Neal said. "We were pushing. We were getting to the net. We were getting shots off. We were moving in the offensive zone. That was a good thing for us. Yeah, it [stinks] we got a couple disallowed, but we knew we were getting to our game and one was going to go for us."
Video: ANA@NSH, Gm3: Forsberg lifts rebound past Gibson
Sure enough, one did. After Ducks forward Chris Wagner went off for high sticking, the Nashville power play, 0-for-11 in the series, came through when a shot hit forward Viktor Arvidsson in front and Josi put it into an open net.
"I think that might have been probably one of our best, if not our best, playoff game this playoffs," defenseman Ryan Ellis said. "Everyone was buying in, shooting pucks, getting to the net, hard areas. I mean, a couple disallowed goals, the effort just to get to the net and make those chances happen, it was a great feeling out there."
The Predators took their first 3-0 series lead in the Western Conference First Round. They earned their first series sweep when they finished off the Chicago Blackhawks. They made their first conference final when they defeated the St. Louis Blues in the second round. Now they have won their first home game in the conference final.
But they don't want that to be the last of the firsts.
"We've got one goal here," captain Mike Fisher said. "Our fans, our city, has really gotten behind us really all year and just done an unbelievable job in the playoffs. We feel it. It helps us no question on and off the ice. Tonight you saw it. It was unbelievable. That being said, we've got a lot of work ahead of us to get where we want to go."
Magic? Not really. Not yet.
But just in case, don't tell the Predators they're on a roll.
"Don't jinx it," Neal said.