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Overtime Winner Speaks to Kevin Fiala's Maturity

Preds Winger Spent Last Overtime Between Preds and Hawks on the Bench, Two Years Later He was the Hero

by John Glennon @glennonsports /

It was almost two years ago to the day that Predators forward Kevin Fiala made his Stanley Cup Playoff debut.

In a three-overtime contest against Chicago, that wore on for 101 grueling minutes, the 18-year-old Fiala saw just 11:05 ice time and didn't take a shift after regulation. Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette would later explain the circumstances just weren't right for Fiala, who'd played only one NHL game in his life prior to that contest.

How times have changed.

Early Tuesday morning, Fiala - playing against the same Blackhawks juggernaut, in a similar high-stakes overtime contest, in front of an electric Bridgestone Arena crowd - scored one of the bigger goals in Preds playoff history.

It was Fiala's slick move through the crease, capped by a deftly delivered backhand, that gave the Preds a 3-2 victory - at 12:09 a.m. - and pushed Nashville to a 3-0 lead in this Western Conference playoff series.

That it was Fiala who brought an end to the contest came as no surprise, as he was the most dangerous man on the ice in the overtime session. He fired three of his team-high seven shots on goal during the 16:44 of the final period, finally finding a way to beat Chicago goalie Corey Crawford.

Video: CHI@NSH, Gm3: Fiala beats Crawford for OT winner

"The kid's come a long way this year - his confidence and his swagger with the puck," Predators center Ryan Johansen said afterward of Fiala. "Around the rink, he brings a good passion to the game. He'll have a smile on his face for a couple of days I'm sure."

It hasn't been a completely smooth ride to the NHL for Fiala, the Predators' first-round pick in 2014, who's still only 20 years old.

Just like most young players, he's gone up and down from the AHL to NHL a handful of times while seeking to find consistency in his game.

Since his latest return from Milwaukee in February, however, Fiala has been steady - with flashes of brilliance. He scored five of his 11 goals down the stretch during the regular season, earning more ice time as the playoffs approached.

Video: Ellis, Fiala and Rinne recap Preds OT win in Game 3

"I think just his maturity as a person and as a player… it took me a couple years, and it's taken him a little while," Johansen said. "But as a person, as a player and [with his] professionalism, he's learning. You can can see it in his consistency and in his game. He's been a really effective player for us."

Game Three's overtime session was a microcosm of the patience Fiala has shown in his evolution as a player.

On his first good scoring chance in the extra period, Fiala rushed an attempt from the high slot, one that Crawford turned away. On his second chance - a tremendous attempt - Fiala fired again from the slot, drilling a shot that Crawford just managed to turn away with a toe save.

"I was really hoping [he'd get another chance]," Preds goalie Pekka Rinne said, "because I knew he was frustrated when Crawford made that awesome save on him."

Sure enough, it was only moments later when James Neal delivered a pass down low to Fiala, allowing the Switzerland native to sneak across the crease and outwait Crawford before bringing the house down.

Video: NSH@CHI, Gm2: Fiala dangles, wrists home late PPG

All of a sudden, the previous miss wasn't nearly as frustrating.

"It was a great save by Crawford," Fiala said. "I was pretty angry. I could have finished it there. But never mind that. We won."

In the moments following the contest, Laviolette explained he'd had a one-on-one talk with Fiala on Monday morning, asking the youngster to be a little "heavier" and a little more involved than he had been in the first two games.

Seven shots and one game-winning goal later, Laviolette has seen what he was looking for. The thing is that Fiala's big moment should make the quick-handed, fleet-skating forward even better moving ahead.

"I think it probably goes to confidence more than anything else," Laviolette said. "He's a young kid playing in a man's league and a really good league at that. So I think young players can grab experiences like that, harness it and move forward with it."

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