For the first time since 2012, the Nashville Predators are going to the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Preds went into Anaheim on Wednesday night in their first Game Seven in franchise history and beat the Ducks 2-1 to win their Western Conference Round One series 4-3. With the victory, the Preds will face the San Jose Sharks in Round Two, beginning on Friday night in California (9:30 p.m. CT, TV: NBCSN). Nashville will begin to worry about their next opponent soon, but the Game Seven triumph was something worth celebrating first.
“It’s a big step,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette, who is now 5-1 all-time in Game Sevens as a coach, said of the victory. “I feel that if you can’t take this one step, you can’t take any more steps. That makes it a really big win for our guys and for our team. When you’re faced with these situations, you’re either going home or continuing to fight for the Cup. It was a big night.”
Nashville got the ever-important first goal, when Colin Wilson made his way through the Ducks zone and got in alone on Frederik Andersen, where he deked and roofed a backhander past the Anaheim netminder for a 1-0 lead at 6:19. Then, Paul Gaustad got his stick on a Shea Weber point shot and deflected a puck into the cage for his first of the postseason and a 2-0 advantage at 15:53, a score that held steady through the end of the first frame.
A scoreless second period led into an Anaheim goal on the power play early in the third by Ryan Kesler to cut the Nashville lead to one. But from then on, goaltender Pekka Rinne and the Preds continued to deny the Ducks, with Rinne making 14 saves in the third period alone.
“He was really good,” Laviolette said of Rinne. “If you think that you need four wins to get out, and if you think about the four wins, you could consider him one of the best players on the ice. He was outstanding. He looked solid to me. He looked from the start tonight that he was right on top of his game.”
“You try to stay calm when you start thinking about Game Seven before the game,” said Rinne, who was playing in his first Game Seven. “You think about it and get a little bit nervous before the game, so you just try and stay calm. But getting the first couple shots and making good saves, you start feeling it and gaining some confidence.”
The Preds also defended admirably in front of their goaltender, blocking 24 shots on the night, continually sacrificing whatever it took to preserve the lead as the time ticked away.
“Every guy just had to do their job, and it was a big team effort,” forward James Neal said. “It starts with Peks. Peks made big save after big save at the right times, and timely goals; [Wilson] buries a huge one and then [Gaustad] gets a big one from being in front on a great tip. This group of guys, everybody is all in and we’re doing everything to win games. That makes it that much better to win.”
The victory is important not only for the current team, but the franchise as a whole, winning their first Game Seven appearance in club history. Even after losing Games Three, Four and Five to the Ducks, the Preds never lost belief in their locker room of what they were capable of accomplishing. That belief came full circle on Wednesday in Orange County.
“We get a chance to play again, and I think that’s all you can ask for is another chance,” forward James Neal said. “Start Game One in San Jose and work from there, but no guy wanted to be done playing hockey. We had a belief in this room that we could win this series and we did, so it feels really good because no one picked us to win this series. Every guy went out and battled and did it, so it’s great.”
The Sharks are up next for the Preds, another monumental challenge on the California coast. But the experience gained over the last two weeks can only help a team that has no plans on slowing down as the spring continues.
“Everybody is really happy right now, and we wanted it so bad,” defenseman Roman Josi said. “It’s definitely special winning a series in Game Seven. The Ducks are a great team, and it was a really tough series, but we’re just happy right now. We don’t have much time though, we start Round Two on Friday, so we have to enjoy this tonight and get ready tomorrow.”
Gif of the Game:
The Preds file off the bench and mob Pekka Rinne after their Game Seven victory in Anaheim.
Pekka Rinne on winning the series in seven games:
“It means a lot. It just shows a lot of character, and I think as a group, we can learn from this series. It’s a really good team we played against, and there are a lot of good things we can take from this series. Just moving forward, I think we are a better team already after this series and after this Game Seven.”
Round Two between the Nashville Predators and the San Jose Sharks begins on Friday night with Game One in San Jose. Game Two comes Sunday night, before the series shifts to Nashville for Game Three on Tuesday.
Cody Bass, who left Game Six with a lower-body injury, did not play in Game Seven. Colton Sissons skated in his place.
With an assist on Paul Gaustad’s goal, Viktor Arvidsson recorded his first career Stanley Cup Playoff point.
The Predators shine in their franchise’s first Game Seven.
Infographic: Bustin’ Brackets