Well… Monday is going to be nuts.
The Nashville Predators went out to Southern California on Saturday and beat the Anaheim Ducks 3-1 to take a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven Western Conference Final series.
Pekka Rinne turned in one of his best performances of the post-season while Colin Wilson, Pontus Aberg and Austin Watson supplied timely goals for the victory.
Leading scorer Ryan Johansen was deemed done for the rest of the playoffs after being (reportedly) diagnosed with acute compartment syndrome. The fear of his absence and what that meant for their Cup aspirations was ramped up pre-game when it was clear that captain and fearless leader, Mike Fisher, was also out with an undisclosed injury. That left the Preds with Colton Sissons, Frederick Gaudreau, Calle Jarnkrok and Vern Fiddler down the middle.
In addition, six of Nashville’s 12 forwards spent time with their AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, either this season (Watson), last season (Sissons, Arvidsson) or both (Gaudreau, Aberg). With this kind of pressure on this stage with this much on the line, that’s a tall order.
Despite those hurdles, the Predators overcame their first great challenge of the playoffs to secure a win and become one step away from the Final.
The shining star out of the aforementioned players? Gaudreau.
“He played unreal,” Filip Forsberg said. “He’s played a little bit in the regular season but this was his first playoff game and he played like he’s been in the league for 10 years.”
Despite making his NHL debut earlier this year and only appearing in nine contests during the regular season, the undrafted center went 10-of-14 in the faceoff dot (a team-high 71 percent) against the League’s best faceoff team both during the 2016-17 campaign and among the teams still alive in these playoffs.
“I thought that Freddy really did his job,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “In there today, after not being here towards the end of the year — after not playing in one single [playoff] game — he got an opportunity and he was excellent.”
Another great performance came from Aberg. Yes he scored the game winning goal so it’s easy to highlight him but he contributed so much more than that. He provided speed down the wing, registered a plus-1 rating and even fired six shot attempts at the Anaheim net.
“Our organization has done such a great job of developing players,” defenseman PK Subban said. “That seems to be key. You see a guy like Pontus come in and score a big goal. He’s a guy, in my opinion, who could’ve been playing on our team all year but we have such depth and players that have paid their dues in the minors that it didn’t happen.”
Now the Predators are one step away. One step away from their first Stanley Cup Final. And they’ll try to take that step in front of their own fans in their own building and with thousands more outside on the plaza and at Walk of Fame Park.
Lower Broadway? Prepare yourselves.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jeremy K. Gover