Four years to the day after the Detroit Red Wings eliminated the Nashville Predators en route to their 11th Stanley Cup, the Predators returned the favor, defeating “big brother” and arguably their biggest rival, four games to one, in their Stanley Cup Playoff series. It made Nashville the only Western Conference team to advance to the second round in both 2011 and 2012.
“We used to look up at Detroit, feeling that we were a little inferior in terms of talent or whatever it may be; we were maybe a little bit in awe of them,” Head Coach Barry Trotz said. “I think we’ve grown to the point where we have a great respect for the Detroit Red Wings, but we’re not in awe of them. That’s the stepping stone that we’ve taken. Obviously, beating Detroit in the first round is a step in the right direction. But I’ll tell you what – they’re a good hockey team. I marvel at how they are so resilient. It was a series of inches and battles.”
After splitting the first two games of the series at Bridgestone Arena, Nashville claimed victory in both games at Joe Louis Arena, a venue that was nearly impossible to win at in the franchise’s early years. David Legwand’s game-winning goal just 13 seconds into the third period, coupled with Pekka Rinne’s spectacular play in net clinched Game Five by a 2-1 score.
“This is huge,” Rinne said after posting a franchise-record 1.81 goals-against average and .944 save percentage in the series. “They have such a great team, great organization with a lot of history with a lot of success. It was a great chance for us to play against the Detroit Red Wings and beat them in five games. It’s great. It tells something about this team. We have a lot of talent in this locker room and we’re having a great time playing right now.”
April 21, 2006: Mason makes 31 saves in his first playoff appearance
Thrust into the starter’s role with an injury to Tomas Vokoun, Chris Mason made the most of his first career playoff start, stopping 31 shots to lead the Predators to a 4-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks and a 1-0 lead in their 2006 Western Conference Quarterfinal series.
On the other end of the rink, the power-play unit made the most of its opportunities, notching all four Nashville goals. Paul Kariya served as the contingent’s catalyst, assisting on all four markers to set a franchise record for points in a playoff game that still stands today.
"There's no question the power play has been an impactful part of our game all year, and tonight it showed it's worth," Head Coach Barry Trotz said.
Nashville fell behind 1-0 just 4:12 into the game, but came storming back with goals by Mike Sillinger, Shea Weber and Martin Erat before the conclusion of the first period. San Jose cut the lead to 3-2 in the second period, then tied it midway through the third. A too many men on the ice penalty against the Sharks one minute later set the stage for Adam Hall's deflection goal at 12:06 that put Nashville ahead by the final score of 4-3.
Mason’s best stops came during a final San Jose barrage in the last minute of regulation when the Sharks pulled their goaltender and threw all they had at the Predators.
"It was just crazy," Mason said. "You know once they get it in the zone, their guys are so big they get it down low and they keep moving it around. They get it back and put it on net. Someone came across and knocked my stick out, so Dan Hamhuis had to give me his. We were just scrambling. When the buzzer went it was just relief."
April 21, 2006: Kariya tallies four assists in playoff opener vs. San Jose
In his first playoff game in a Predators uniform, Paul Kariya made quick work of a number of franchise postseason records by assisting on each of Nashville’s four power play goals in a 4-3 victory over the visiting San Jose Sharks. The victory gave the Preds a 1-0 advantage in their 2006 Western Conference Quarterfinal series.
Adam Hall notched the game winner on a setup from Kariya and Kimmo Timonen at 12:06 of the third and Chris Mason stopped 31 shots for his first career playoff victory.
"The guy's a pressure player," Hall said of Kariya, who set all-time marks for playoff points and assists in a game. "He's one of the elite players in the league. He goes out there and he's a great skill player, but what people don't see is his intense work ethic. He deserves everything he's getting."
Though the Preds went on to fall in the series 4-1, Kariya was outstanding, accumulating seven points in the five games.
"I think it's been pretty apparent that he's a great playmaker, he can score, he can pretty much do everything," defenseman Shea Weber said of Kariya following the Game One win. "So it's no surprise that he had a night like he did tonight."
April 22, 2011 – Smithson plays overtime hero in Nashville’s run to first playoff series victory
Nashville’s spring of “firsts” began as Jerred Smithson scored at 1:57 of extra time to lift the Predators to a 4-3 victory at the Honda Center in Anaheim. Jordin Tootoo was denied two chances in front of the net on the final play, but the Predators corralled the puck and worked it around the zone. Tootoo ended up with the puck on the edge of the trapezoid and slung the puck in front of the net. Smithson caught the puck in stride and beat goaltender Ray Emery to send the Predators into previously uncharted waters – with a playoff opponent on the brink of elimination.
It was the Predators’ first playoff overtime victory, first Game Five victory and first time winning three games in a playoff year.
"It's an amazing feeling to be one step closer," said Tootoo, whose second assist set up Smithson's one-timer. "The playoffs are all about momentum swings, and we've done well with that throughout the year."
Nashville had to fight just to force overtime. Anaheim took a one-goal lead at 14:16 of the third period, and it wasn’t until an extra-attacker goal by Shea Weber with 36 seconds left in regulation – set up by an offensive zone face-off win by Mike Fisher and a tape-to-tape pass by Cody Franson – sent the game to a fourth period.
Kevin Klein and Joel Ward scored Nashville’s first two goals, while Pekka Rinne turned away 23 shots.
April 24, 2011 – Preds drop the Ducks in six; claim franchise’s first playoff series
After a thrilling Game Five in Anaheim, the heated Western Conference Quarterfinal series between the Predators and Anaheim Ducks returned to Nashville for Game Six just 48 hours later. Nick Spaling scored two goals as Nashville defeated Anaheim 4-2, giving the Predators their first playoff series win in franchise history.
"Nick Spaling is not known for scoring a lot of goals, but there he is scoring big goals," Head Coach Barry Trotz said. "This series sort of symbolized how the Predators play in a lot of ways. David Legwand's line got a couple of goals and they played lots against Ryan Getzlaf. Mike Fisher's line got us some goals, Jerred Smithson's line got us goals and Blake Geoffrion's line got us goals. That's sort of what we do. That's our DNA. To win this series, we needed everybody and everybody contributed."
Spaling opened up the scoring when he buried a shot from in between the faceoff circles to knot the score at 1-1 with 28 seconds left in the first period. The setup came from Jordin Tootoo, his first of two assists, to give him a second straight multi-assist game.
"Both goals, he made great plays there," Spaling said of Tootoo, who had the primary assist on both of his goals. "For him driving the net there, he created the whole goal. It was just me shooting it in."
Nashville’s Steve Sullivan and Anaheim’s Jason Blake traded goals in the second period, and the game entered the third frame tied at 2-2. At the 4:45 mark in the third period, Pekka Rinne sent a quick outlet pass that caught the Ducks in the middle of a line change. Taking the puck with speed through the neutral zone, Tootoo drove the net, but goaltender Ray Emery negated his try. Ducks defenseman Andreas Lilja, who was beaten to the net on the play, compounded his error by crashing into Emery and allowing Spaling to pick up the loose puck and roof it over the fallen goalie.
David Legwand, the Predators’ first ever draft-pick, put the icing on the cake with his empty-net goal to make the score 4-2, and send the teams to the handshake line.