It’s a setting that has provided some of the most exciting moments in the history of the game. One team will prevail, the other will think about it all summer long.
The Nashville Predators are hoping to find themselves on the right side of the handshake line tomorrow night in Anaheim when they face the Ducks for the final time in their Western Conference First Round series, which is going the distance in order to be decided. It’s the first Game Seven in Preds franchise history, a feat that was solidified with a 3-1 win over the Ducks in Game Six on Monday night in Nashville to even the series.
Experience certainly factors into a situation such as this, and although the club itself has never felt the pressure of a seventh game, a handful on the roster have. That includes Head Coach Peter Laviolette, who is 4-1 all-time behind the bench in Game Sevens.
“The guys should be excited about Game Seven; it’s no different than our Game Six,” Laviolette said Tuesday before the team departed for California. “If we didn’t win last night, we were done, so I think we have that going for us. We’ve already taken on an elimination game and found success… Our guys are ready to play.”
James Neal has skated in a Game Seven twice in his career and is looking for his first win in the setting. The winger, whose goal ended up being the game winner on Monday night, has high hopes for his club’s ability to duplicate their effort 48 hours later.
“The better team will win tomorrow, and we feel like we’ve done a great job up to this point,” Neal said. “We’ve been underdogs all year, and I don’t think people saw us in this position. Every guy in our dressing room knows that, and we just have to have that belief that we can do it.”
Veteran defenseman Barret Jackman, who also has Game Seven experience (with the Blues), is someone who younger teammates may look to for a word of advice on what to expect. Some already have.
“Tony [Bitetto] asked me last night what Game Seven is like, and I told him it’s just a lot of fun” Jackman said. “You have to go out there, and each shift is going to be do or die. You have to play as hard as you can, and don’t have any regrets when you’re done.”
Jackman also believes the Preds knew in the early going on Monday night they’d be able to force a trip back to Orange County and another date with the Ducks. That belief worked.
“I think we felt it in the pregame skate; there was a lot of energy, very upbeat, and the guys in the dressing room were pretty loose,” Jackman said. “You could feel the confidence that we weren’t ready to go home. Game Seven was something we really wanted to push for, and it’s here. We get one more game to put everything on the line and show what we have.”
Many Preds will be looking to players like Jackman, Neal and others in the room in what will be arguably the biggest game of their careers. Laviolette has no doubt those in charge will say what needs to be said when the time comes.
“There’s such good leadership in our room,” Laviolette said. “The leaders in the room are quality people and great character people, guys that would want to be in these situations. Last night was a perfect example: Paul Gaustad, Shea Weber, Pekka Rinne, Mike Fisher, James Neal, lots of guys. The leadership is really important in those situations, and we have some good leaders.”
The Predators have never waived from their belief all season that if they play the way they know they’re capable of, they can beat any team in the League. They’ll have one more chance to prove that on Wednesday for a chance to advance to the Second Round.
“We know what kind of team we have here in Nashville,” Neal said. “We did everything all year to push ourselves to this point. Why not win one more game?”