Nashville Predators

Predators continue to rise to the occasion

(Icon Sportswire)

They say a playoff series doesn’t really begin until the home team has a lost a game.

By that logic, this battle between San Jose and Nashville hasn’t actually started yet. Which, of course, is insane.

A series that has seen more than its fair share of twists and turns saw a few more on Monday night. The Predators didn’t even register a shot on goal in the first 10:00 of play, falling behind 1-0 on the scoreboard in the process. From that point on, however, they outshot the Sharks 32-15 — beginning with rookie Viktor Arvidsson’s shot at 10:02, and ending with Arvidsson’s backhand shot at 2:03 of overtime.

In many ways, Game 6 was a microcosm of this series overall. Nashville dug a 2-0 hole to start out, rallied to even things up at 2-2, fell behind three games to two and finally knotted it all back up at three apiece with the win on Monday. And in this game specifically, the Predators dug a 2-0 hole in the first period, rallied to even the score at 2-2 in the second, fell behind 3-2 in the third and finally knotted it up at three apiece with 7:16 remaining in regulation.

That’s when Arvidsson took over.

The former fourth-round pick (2014) had eight career NHL goals to his name entering tonight, none of which had come in the postseason. In 12 playoff outings, he had mustered just one lonely assist. That changed early in the extra frame though, when Miika Salomaki lofted the puck out of Nashville’s end toward the Sharks’ zone.

Melker Karlsson went to play the puck, but mishandled it slightly, allowing Arvidsson to swoop in, beat Marc-Edouard Vlasic to the puck and fire a ridiculous backhand shot into the far top corner past a surprised Martin Jones.

Game 7 will be Thursday night in San Jose.

For the Preds, this will be their second consecutive series that goes the distance. And they’re trying to make it the second consecutive series in which they rally from down 3-2 to advance on the road.

Regardless of what happens, no one can question their resiliency at this point, as they have now played literally every other night since the playoffs began. That’s 13 gritty postseason games in the span of 25 days, and only now will they finally get a slight “break”, with one extra day before the deciding game.

Peter Laviolette’s club flat-out refuses to go away, and has gotten production up and down the lineup through their first 13 games. Ultimately, that’s how they’ve managed to survive this long. But Colin Wilson has clearly been the main catalyst up front.

Skating alongside Mike Fisher and James Neal, Wilson has put up at least one point in 11 of Nashville’s 13 playoff contests — including the game-tying tally on Monday. Overall, he has now tied the franchise record for points in a single postseason with 13, equaling the mark that current San Jose forward Joel Ward set back in 2011.

On the other end of the ice, the Sharks began this game very strong, minimizing Nashville’s opportunities while building that 2-0 lead. But they’ve had their hands full with this Predators team all along — more so than they did with Los Angeles in the opening round — and now they find themselves in the unenviable position of facing a dangerous netminder like Pekka Rinne in a one-and-done scenario. Not ideal, considering the 6-foot-5 Finn has flashed the ability to completely take over games in the past.

Working in San Jose’s favor is a productive power play. The Sharks racked up their 11th goal of these playoffs with the man advantage — tied for the NHL lead with Washington, who has had five more opportunities. In this game, however, the two clubs combined for just two total power plays. In fact, counting the contest between St. Louis and Dallas tonight, five total power plays were handed out over the two games. The officials are letting the players decide the outcome at this point in the season, unless something egregious happens. Let’s hope that continues the rest of the way.

Overall, San Jose has carried the play slightly more through the first six games so, if the series was decided simply based on the eye test, Peter DeBoer’s squad might be advancing. It would still be close though, as the two teams were separated by just a single shot on goal (166-165, in favor of the Sharks) entering Game 6.

Of course, that’s obviously not how a series is determined. And that only accounts for total performance over the course of what has now been just about 21 periods of hockey anyway. When the ability to step up in key moments is factored in, Nashville simply cannot be overlooked anymore.

With their backs to the wall, they’ve now repeatedly risen to the occasion against two of the best teams in the West. As a result, they’re now just one victory away from making their first conference final appearance ever.

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