By Amanda DiPaolo
On Tuesday night, the Nashville Predators will play their first ever game in the month of May.
“I always say hockey players should play in May. If you play in May, you’re a winner. That means there are not a lot of teams playing and that’s a good thing,” Head Coach Barry Trotz said about Tuesday night’s event.
The Vancouver Canucks are 7-3 in their last 10 starts at Bridgestone Arena. To say they’ve played well in Music City is an understatement. But Pekka Rinne’s record against the Canucks is 4-4-0 with a 1.89 goals-against average, including a shutout. Through the first two games of the semi finals, Rinne has an impressive .958 save percentage.
Predators fans have never experienced the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs at Bridgestone Arena. When the Predators arrived to the airport on Sunday, Captain Shea Weber commented on the fan support.
“Our fans are some of the best in the league. We obviously appreciate all their support,” he said. While nearly a couple hundred fans gathered to welcome the team home, there will be 17 113 fans cheering on Rinne and the rest of the Predators on Tuesday night, looking for Nashville to take a 2-1 series lead against the best team in the NHL.
It is not an impossible expectation.
All the momentum is with Nashville. They got a split in one of the hardest buildings around the League. The Predators won in dramatic fashion in Game 2 to even the series, scoring in double overtime. Nashville now plays the next two games in front of the home crowd and in a building they have had tremendous success defending throughout the years.
The Predators have an opportunity and are in a position they have never been in before– to take the lead in a Western Conference semi finals series.
If there were a problem, it would be scoring. The good news is the Canucks have the same problem and both teams will try for the same solution, the power play. Neither team has scored a power play goal. Vancouver is 0-for-6 and Nashville is 0-for-9 on the man advantage.
In two games, the Predators have two goals, one a fluke goal of the last minute in the third period to send Game 2 to overtime. While the Predators struggled to find their game in the first game of the series, Nashville was the dominant team, leading all the major statistical categories, in Game 2. Nashville led in shots (46-33), hits (41-34), blocked shots (23-19) and face-off wins (57-43). But the Predators could still not beat Roberto Luongo in regulation, that is without the help of his own skate.
While the pressure continues to mount for the Canucks big guns to produce, namely Henrik and Daniel Sedin, the same pressure is not nearly as palpable for the Nashville forwards. But it should be. Rinne cannot be left to do all the work alone.
If the Predators use their speed to control the play and the tempo of the game, win the small battles along the boards and continue to improve in the faceoff circle, Nashville will be in good position. The defense and the grinders are finding a way to put the puck in the net, but if Mike Fisher, David Legwand, Martin Erat, Patric Hornqvist, and Sergei Kostitsyn could do the same, the Predators would position themselves much better for an epic upset.
There are a couple hundred tickets remaining for the game, which has an 8 pm start time. Tickets are available online at nashvillepredators.com or by visiting the Bridgestone Arena box office.
Photo Credit: AP
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