Jerred Smithson calls it the highlight of his NHL career.
There are a number of banners that hang in the rafters of Bridgestone Arena commemorating recent success for the Predators, but back in 2011, there were still plenty of firsts to be had.
Nashville had never won a Game 5 of a Stanley Cup Playoff series. They had never won an overtime game in the postseason. The franchise had not yet been on the winning side of a handshake line either.
On April 22, 2011, that all began to change.
With the Round 1 series between the Ducks and Preds tied at two games apiece, Nashville went back out to Anaheim for a pivotal Game 5. Roughly three hours after the opening faceoff, Smithson found himself being mobbed by his teammates.
Just 1:57 into the extra session of a 3-3 tie, Jordin Tootoo found Smithson with a perfect pass in front of the net. The 6-foot-3 centerman, who was known more for shutting down the opposition as opposed to his goal-scoring prowess, buried the feed to give the Preds their first playoff OT victory and their first Game 5 win to send them home with a 3-2 series lead.
"I would say it's No. 1," Smithson said via phone. "Playing your first game in the NHL was a huge accomplishment and a dream come true… but as a kid, like any kid, you just grow up dreaming to score an overtime goal in the playoffs. Usually it's for the Stanley Cup, but just to be able to do that on that stage was definitely the highlight of my career, that's for sure."
Almost as memorable as Smithson's winner that night was the reason he even got that chance in the first place.
The Preds and Ducks went back and forth in a tight, physical contest at Honda Center, and with the score tied 2-2 late in regulation, Jason Blake put Anaheim up 3-2 with less than six minutes to play. A loss for Nashville would have presented a late-series deficit, less than ideal in any postseason situation.
But the group wasn't ready to give up yet, and with goaltender Pekka Rinne pulled for the extra attacker, with less than a minute to play in the third period, former Preds center Mike Fisher settled in for the faceoff. The puck came back off of Fisher's stick to Cody Franson, and blueliner - who had two stints with the Predators over his career - found former Nashville Captain Shea Weber, whose shot found a way through traffic to tie the game with just 38 seconds remaining.
"If Fish doesn't win that faceoff, you don't win that game," Smithson said. "[When Shea scored], the energy level just went through the roof. The feeling was unbelievable. Then, going into overtime, you have that energy, and I've been on the other side where you give up a lead late to and you're almost deflated going into that locker room. On the other hand, we were feeling really good."
Smithson wasn't kidding, and the Preds didn't waste much time once the extra session began. Smithson, Tootoo and Nick Spaling made up the unit who climbed over the boards for their first shift of overtime less than two minutes in, and they went to work in the offensive zone.
New heroes are born each season in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and oftentimes, the star players aren't the ones who find the back of the net when the game requires extra time to decide a winner.
Smithson took on that role in Game 5 and potted arguably the biggest goal in franchise history at that point in time.
"Just playing with my linemates for that matter, those guys had just a heck of a series," Smithson said. "Spaling and Tootoo, they were so fun to play with, and their work ethic and their energy was contagious. And the overtime goal, at the time, honestly it was a bit of a blur because you're in the moment, you're making plays, and I got a nice little pass there from Toots to me in front of the net, and I just tried to find an opening and get it off as quick as I could. And then that feeling of relief was like, 'Wow, we finally won an overtime game and put ourselves in a great position to finish things off.'"
That was the challenge in the moment for the Predators: to realize that the jubilation of an overtime goal needs to be short lived. The group still had a job to do, and they were coming back home with a chance to make franchise history once more two days later.
"We had a lot of great leaders, and there were some great older guys and guys that had been in the playoffs and had done this before," Smithson said. "You kind of have that even-keel mentality, but that being said, we all know what the crowds are like in Nashville. We knew it was going to be absolutely bonkers in there, and to be able to go out there and just feed off their energy [was key]. We were obviously excited to go out there and get chomping at the bit, but we knew the fans were going to be going crazy. I remember the feeling - I could not wait to step foot on the ice, even for that warm-up, because it was really electrifying."
Behind the energy of the Seventh Man, the Predators collected a 4-2 victory on Easter Sunday to take the series by a 4-2 count and advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time.
Nashville's run came to an end a couple of weeks later when they lost in six games to the Vancouver Canucks, but that inaugural series win finally showed the organization they could get over that initial hump in the quest for Lord Stanley.
And as Smithson watched the Preds play in the Cup Final in 2017, he couldn't help but think back to those April days in 2011 when he experienced that same jolt of electricity.
"I had played in some arenas at playoff time or big games, and maybe things are getting a little bit crazy, but that was a whole new animal," Smithson said of the Nashville crowd in 2011. "And for us to have that opportunity on our home ice to finish off the series was awesome. You want to take advantage of that opportunity, and I try to explain to people, because they didn't really understand until the Preds made it to the Final. People would say, 'Wow, Nashville, what a place to play,' and I'm saying, 'It's been like that all along, maybe not to that level where they're partying in the streets, but the fans are passionate and crazy and they love their hockey.' It was great to see them make that run to the Final, because it really kind of cemented that as a hockey town now."
These days, Smithson is back home in Vernon, British Columbia, Canada, getting all the family time he wants. The 41-year-old has two children, a 7-year-old son who plays hockey, and a 4-year-old daughter, who gives Smithson plenty of reasons to smile.
He helps with his son's hockey team and still enjoys lacing up his skates after an 11-year NHL career that spanned 606 regular-season games and 36 more in the playoffs. Smithson will never forget those seven seasons spent in Nashville, and he's proud to have made an indelible mark in the franchise's history in a game and series many of the Predators' faithful still recall fondly.
He does too.
"When we won in Game 6, it was like, 'Finally, we did it,'" Smithson said. "It felt like such a huge accomplishment, and it was. We took our licks there through the years where we had a lot of great teams that should have should have gone farther, and we didn't. To be able to learn from that and use that going forward was definitely rewarding and a great feeling."