The Predators needed a hero - and Craig Smith wasn't about to let his club down.
The veteran Nashville winger deposited his first-career postseason overtime goal exactly five minutes into the extra session to give the Preds a 2-1 victory over the Dallas Stars in Game 2 and even the best-of-seven series at one game apiece.
After dropping Game 1 on Wednesday, the last thing the Predators wanted to do was head to Dallas down by two games. A complete, consistent effort three nights later set them up for success, and Smith put the exclamation point on the outing.
"Craig plays hard every night," Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "I've never had a conversation with Craig Smith to say 'We need more out of you.' He gives everything he can every night. For me, that's always given. We need people to step up. When you're in a situation like that and down by a game in a series, you get into overtime, you can weigh the two results. We needed to get a win, we needed somebody, so it was really good for Craig."
"We love the energy that Smitty brings and he brings that every night," Preds forward Austin Watson said of Smith. "He's always moving his feet and forechecking. Dog-on-a-bone like we talk about. To see him just continue to work like he always does and to get rewarded for us, it was a huge goal and good on him for continuing to work."
After a scoreless opening period that saw the Preds get the better of the chances, it was Dallas who got the game's first goal less than two minutes into the second stanza. Jamie Benn converted on a feed from Tyler Seguin to beat Preds netminder Pekka Rinne, but less than two minutes later, the Predators got on the board.
Inserted into the lineup after Brian Boyle was unable to play due to illness, Rocco Grimaldi made his the most of his Nashville postseason debut when he finished off a play set up by Watson to even the score at 1-1 through 40 minutes.
Video: DAL@NSH, Gm2: Grimaldi scores off feed from Watson
A scoreless third period led to the first overtime session of the series, and it didn't take long for Smith to beat Ben Bishop with a shot from the bottom of the left circle to give the Predators their eighth playoff overtime win in franchise history.
"We created a lot of chances tonight which is a great sign," Rinne said. "Our goal is obviously to keep going and build from here and gain everything we can from this win."
The Stars were known as a stingy defensive team throughout the regular season, and they only allowed two in Game 2, but it was the Predators, who outshot Dallas by a 43-23 count and limited the quality chances for the visitors. In particular, Nashville was a perfect 6-for-6 on the penalty kill, a key component in the win.
"Every time we killed a penalty the crowd seemed to get some juice and some life from that, as did we," Laviolette said. "The penalty kill was excellent tonight. It seemed there were different points where there was energy in the building. I thought it was consistent all night; that (Smith's penalty) was one of them. That being said, I liked our game. I don't think we just picked it up from there. I thought we competed hard against a good team for 65 or so minutes."
Even after dropping Game 1 at home, the Predators knew they didn't have to change much, but rather execute consistently for 60 minutes - or more. On Saturday, they did just that, and now they'll head to the Lone Star State with what now equates to a best-of-five set.
And no matter what happens in Texas, the Predators know they'll be coming back to Bridgestone Arena to host Game 5 next Saturday night.
"I don't want to sound boring, but you try to have the mindset that you take one game at a time, no matter what the situation is," Preds goaltender Pekka Rinne said. "But it's a huge win for us. Now we've tied the series and go in their building and have an opportunity to get the lead, but at the same time you don't want to go too far ahead of yourself. Not too high, not too low, enjoy this, but also get ready for the next couple Dallas games."
Video: DAL@NSH, Gm2: Smith wins it in OT for Predators
Smith Rises Up:
Craig Smith always dreamed of being the guy to have 19 fellow teammates swarming him after scoring a game-winning overtime goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Now, he knows what it feels like.
The longest-tenured Predators forward converted at five minutes even in OT to tie the Round One series at 1-1, exactly what his club needed on Saturday night.
"That was a good one and it was awesome," Smith said of his goal. "I hadn't seen the building like that in a while so it was a lot of fun. I was just able to get a stick on it and just happened to grab the puck there so it was great."
"Playoff goals are pretty special," Watson said. "To be playing this time of year is what we all work for as a team and individuals to play on the biggest stage. That's what that is. Good on him for rising to the occasion and being able to score a big goal for us."
He doesn't wear a letter on his sweater, and he isn't often mentioned to the outside as one of the team's leaders, but make no mistake - inside of that dressing room, Smith is regarded just as highly as anyone.
It's moments like this where that respect and admiration gets a chance to shine.
"We know in this room that Smitty's a leader for us," Watson said. "We talk a lot about how we have our leadership group that wears letters, but each individual here has a responsibility to himself and the team to lead by example. Smitty does that every day. He works his butt off and he does that game in and game out. To get rewarded is awesome."
"He represents our team so well," Rinne said of Smith. "[Laviolette] talks about speed and attitude, and he has those qualities and he brings them every night. When you think of playoffs, you'll think of players like Smitty. He goes to work to work every single night, so it's nice to see him get rewarded."
Video: Predators tie series with Smith's OT goal
It was the third career game-winning goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for Smith, tied for the most in Nashville history (James Neal, Viktor Arvidsson and David Legwand).
Nashville is now 8-8 all-time in overtime in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and 5-4 at Bridgestone Arena.
Nashville winger Wayne Simmonds left Game 2 in the first period and did not return after taking a shot from Roman Josi to the leg. Laviolette did not have an update on Simmonds's condition following the game.
Preds forward Brian Boyle missed Game 2 due to illness and is day-to-day.
In addition to Boyle, the Predators scratched Yannick Weber, Rem Pitlick, Miikka Salomaki, Zac Rinaldo, Matt Irwin, Cody McLeod, Frederick Gaudreau and Niclas Westerholm for Game 2.
With Games 1 and 2 now complete, the series shifts to Dallas for Games 3 and 4. The first of those two contests come on Monday night, an 8:30 p.m. (CT) start from the American Airlines Center. Game 4 is Wednesday at 7 p.m.