They've started off with a bang. Again.
James Neal scored the game-winner in overtime and the Nashville Predators took a 1-0 series lead in the Western Conference Final with a 3-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on Friday night. The result marks the third consecutive series that Nashville has taken a 1-0 lead in this postseason, all on the road.
After Anaheim tied the contest at 2-2 in the third, it was Nashville who had a push in the extra session, ended by Neal's fourth of the postseason, and his biggest yet.
"Game One is a huge opportunity to take home-ice advantage back, and that's what we're going out there trying to do," Neal said. "That's what we did tonight, and it was a great win."
"The guys have played well in the first game," Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "Tonight, for me, I thought was a game where we came out really well. I thought they pushed back, we pushed back against them, then they pushed back again on us and came back and tied it up. We didn't play very well in the third, but in overtime we got back to our game and got back to playing again. There's probably going to be a lot of that [in] this series, but tonight went our way in overtime."
It was Anaheim who struck first in an opening period dominated by Nashville when Jakob Silfverberg flung a shot to the net that eluded Pekka Rinne. But after hitting the crossbar earlier in the period, Filip Forsberg evened the score when he tipped in a Matt Irwin point shot through the five hole of John Gibson. The goal was Forsberg's fourth of the playoffs and one of 15 Preds shots in the first frame.
Video: NSH@ANA, Gm1: Forsberg redirects Irwin's shot home
Nashville continued their pressure in the second, and a slick, cross-ice feed from Ryan Johansen made its way to Austin Watson who one-timed a shot toward the net, deflecting off Sami Vatanen and into the cage. It was Watson's first career postseason tally and gave the Preds a 2-1 advantage after 40 minutes.
Video: NSH@ANA, Gm1: Watson finds twine with one-timer
Anaheim controlled play in the third period, and Hampus LIndholm got the equalizer at 7:21 of the period, forcing the second overtime for Nashville of these playoffs.
Once the extra session started, the ice tilted in favor of the visitors once more, and after a scramble in front that almost ended it, P.K. Subban found Neal on the near side to seal the deal.
"It just shows a lot of character," Rinne said of the win. "I thought that tonight we [had] a lot of chances… The guys stuck with it, and we've been doing that all playoffs. It's a great sign for a team."
Video: NSH@ANA, Gm1: Neal nets Subban's feed for OT win
As the pressure increases this spring, so does the play of James Neal.
After going scoreless in Round One against Chicago, Neal potted three against St. Louis in Round Two, and on Friday night in Anaheim, he scored what may be the biggest of his career.
"He's one of those X-factors," defenseman Mattias Ekholm said of Neal. "[He's one of] the key guys that can really make a difference in the game and tonight he did. You just see what kind of shot he has and it's nice to see him going at the right time."
Just a shift before he ended it, Neal laid a thunderous hit on Anaheim's Brandon Montour, one of two notable body checks he had on the night. And then, with a rocket to the twine, Neal gave his club a 1-0 series lead for the third consecutive time, just another chapter in what has been quite a story to this point for the Predators.
"Whoever's picking us as the underdog, that's fine," Neal said. "We know what type of team we have tonight in our dressing room. We've built a team to try and win a Stanley Cup and we're continuing to get better every series and every game."
On The Road Again:
Video: Neal lifts Preds past Ducks in OT for 3-2 Game 1 win
The underdog labels, the raucous crowds - none of it seems to matter to the hockey club from Nashville.
For three consecutive series in the 2017 postseason, the Predators have gone into a hostile barn - first in Chicago, then St. Louis and now Anaheim - and walked in the house without even thinking to wipe their feet at the door.
"You have to win four games, and we're one down," center Ryan Johansen said. "We'll take it, get some confidence from it and we're going go to bed feeling good about our game and ourselves. Then, just keep pounding away and trying to get better."
This third series lead carries the most significant to date, as Nashville has never been to this point of the postseason. But now they find themselves owning a 1-0 lead in the Western Conference Final, and although they're well aware of what's still ahead of them, there's nothing wrong with putting their feet up for the night.
"I think everyone in here is happy," defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. "Everyone wants to enjoy it tonight, but we know tomorrow, it's the rest button. We want to grab Game Two as well, and we have a lot of work to do from here. [But it's] just a nice feeling right now. We have a long ways to go."
Nashville has now gotten goals from 15 different players in the current postseason, a franchise record.
Matt Irwin, Mattias Ekholm and P.K. Subban all registered assists in Game One, now marking 19 of the last 21 Nashville goals that have had a defensemen factor in on the result. Overall, the Preds have now received 31 points (9g-22a) from the backend.
Game Two of the Western Conference Final is set for Sunday at 6:30 p.m. CT before the series shifts back to Nashville for Games Three and Four, beginning on Tuesday.