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Year-In-Review: The Top Preds Moments From 2011

by Bryan Mullen / Nashville Predators
The calendar is turning to 2012, which provides us a chance to reflect on the last 12 months in Smashville. The Nashville Predators had many memorable moments in 2011. -- a historic playoff run, rookie debuts, the first fourth-generation NHLer, hat tricks, 100 mile per hour slap shots, record streaks, amazing comebacks and more highlighted the ’11 calendar year. Before we flip the calendar, let’s look back at 11 of the best moments of 2011 and then chime in with your thoughts below.

Fishing for a strong push
It was mid-February and the Predators were in position to make a deal for a playoff push. The move they made sent shockwaves throughout the NHL, and proved that Nashville was willing and able to compete with the big boys. The Preds acquired forward Mike Fisher from Ottawa and added instant skill, experience and veteran leadership. His influence on the team was immediate, and he had 12 points in 27 regular season games. In the playoffs, he added seven points (three goals, four assists) in 12 games.

What a place for a debut
Nashville defenseman Jon Blum made his NHL debut on Feb. 22, and the venue proved a full-circle moment for the 22-year-old native of California. Blum hit the ice for the first time in an NHL sweater at Columbus, which was where the 2007 NHL Entry Draft was held. Blum was in the building that day when Nashville selected him in the first round (23rd overall). Later that week Blum would score his first career goal, the go-ahead tally in a home win against the Blue Jackets. Blum and Kevin Klein would become the team's second defensive pairing and a key to the team's series win over Anaheim in the first round of the playoffs.

King of the Blue Line
Captain Shea Weber capped the St. Patrick’s Day showdown against the Boston Bruins in fine form, blasting home a one-timer from Ryan Suter 3:37 into overtime to give the Preds a 4-3 win over the eventual Stanley Cup champs. The goal was the 80th of Weber’s career, moving him past former captain Kimmo Timonen for most defenseman goals in franchise history. More importantly, the win provided momentum for a memorable finish to the season as the Preds won their next five games to vault into the Western Conference playoffs. And Weber’s goal set the stage for our next moment…

Easy as 1,2,3 for Geoffrion
Ask Barry Trotz, David Poile or any Preds player, and they will tell you the turning point of the 2010-11 regular season came at Buffalo on March 20. Rookie Blake Geoffrion recorded his first NHL hat trick and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Two of his goals came 1:02 apart in the final three minutes of regulation, and Martin Erat went on to score the game-winner in overtime. It gave the Preds a sweep of a daunting weekend back-to-back set and vaulted the Preds into fifth place in the Western Conference standings. Nashville would go on to post a 6-2-1 record in the final nine games of the regular season to power into the playoffs.

Moving on!
April 24 was arguably the best day of the franchise since it was announced Nashville would be getting an NHL team. The Predators were at home with a chance to win a playoff series for the first time in club history. And they accomplished it in front of an ear-blistering, sold-out crowd of 17,113 at Bridgestone Arena. The franchise's first ever draft pick David Legwand burried an empty net goal with 9.2 seconds left as the Preds defeated Anaheim 4-2 in Game Six. Rookie Nick Spaling was one of the heroes with two goals, including the game-winner. Pekka Rinne made 25-of-27 saves and Nashville moved on to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs while the city went bonkers.

And the winner is…
The NHL took center stage on June 22 in Las Vegas and the Nashville Predators were well represented. Pekka Rinne was up for the Vezina Trophy and Hart Trophy, while Shea Weber was up for the Norris Trophy. Barry Trotz was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award, and David Poile was on hand as a finalist for the General Manager of the Year Award. The four went home without an award, but there were some close races. Rinne finished fourth in voting for the Hart and was runner-up for the Vezina. Weber finished second for the Norris, just nine votes behind Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom.

Who is this kid?
The Preds aren’t known for having a player skip Milwaukee and head directly to Nashville, but Craig Smith is a different kind of player. And he showed why early on. The 22-year-old speedy forward scored a goal in his first two games, becoming the first Predators player to do so. He became the first NHL player to accomplish it since David Laliberte (Oct./Nov. 2009), and is one of only four active NHL players to have achieved the feat.

Let’s go streaking!
From Oct. 27 to Nov. 8, Patric Hornqvist was one of the most productive players in the NHL. Known for doing the dirty work and scoring from the dangerous areas around the net, Hornqvist scored a goal in six consecutive games. In one of those contests (at Chicago, Oct. 31), he tallied two scores. The streak tied a franchise record, and the Preds went 4-2-0 during Hornqvist’s magical ride. On Nov. 9, Horqnvist appeared to extend his streak to seven games, but a late scoring change switched credit of the score away from him. Hornqvist still finished with three assists in that Nov. 9 game.

Big-time player, big-time money
With goaltender Pekka Rinne set to become a free agent in July, the Preds stepped in and stepped up and signed the all-world goaltender to the largest contract in franchise history on Nov. 3. Rinne inked a seven-year, $49 million deal that makes puts him in position to be the goaltender fans can rely on until almost 2020. Rinne went out later that night and picked up a 35 save shutout at Phoenix, further proving his value to the organization. Rinne’s glowing statistics and on-ice athleticism have made him a household name for NHL fans, and his superb presence in the locker room and in the community made him the perfect candidate for this history-making deal.

A night of celebration
The Preds hosted Montreal on Nov. 12, but on this night, the game was part of a much bigger event. The team played their 1,000th game in franchise history, and the accomplishment was marked with multiple celebrations. There were parties, a ceremonial puck drop featuring David Legwand, and some flashbacks broadcast on the megatron during the game. Impressively, David Poile and Barry Trotz have been the only GM/Coach combination for all 1000 of those games.

Late Game Heroics At Columbus
The Preds struggled to close out November and open December. Things didn’t appear much better on Dec. 8 in Columbus, trailing 3-1 with under two minutes remaining in the game. The Preds pulled Pekka Rinne for the extra attacker and Patric Hornqvist scored a “Hornqvist-esque” goal crashing the net and flipping a rebound off Shea Weber’s point shot to pull Nashville within one goal. Weber drew a power-play 30 seconds later and Sergei Kostitsyn redirected Martin Erat’s shot for the game-tying goal with 12.1 seconds remaining in regulation. Colin Wilson completed the comeback by converting a two-on-one rush with Erat 1:45 into overtime, one of the more amazing come-from-behind wins in franchise history. Nashville rattled off wins in its next four games to move into the top-eight in the Western Conference.

So what do you think was the top moment of 2011? Think we missed one? Click here and let us know.

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