With the NFL Draft coming up and with the conclusion of an NHL playoff series, we are on the precipice of perhaps the greatest four days in Nashville sports history. It starts tonight, in Anaheim. The Nashville Predators will play their first Game 7 in franchise history. That is an amazing statistic when you consider the Predators have played 17 seasons (The 04-05 season was cancelled due to the lockout) in Nashville and this is their 11th playoff series. Amazing. There will be watch parties all over town and they will be energized events despite the late local start time of 9pm. Perhaps because of that late local start time, they will be more energized. The biggest watch party will certainly be on the plaza at Bridgestone Arena. If you can make it happen, I would be there if I were you.
One of my 3HL co-hosts Mickey Ryan and I went to the airport to talk with Predator players and coaches before they boarded the plane headed to Anaheim for this opportunity. Make no mistake, that is exactly how these guys view this game, as an opportunity. James Neal said he’s pumped about experiencing another Game 7. He is one of six Predators players to have played in a Game 7. “It’s a lot of excitement, it’s a lot of nerves. It’s what you play for.”
All of these guys grew up dreaming of a moment like this. Barrett Jackman told Adam Vingan with the Tennessean, “Bitetto asked me what Game 7 was like. I just told him it’s a lot of fun. Each shift is going to be do or die, play as hard as you can and don’t have any regrets when you’re done.” That’s it. Words to live by.
If you think about it, Game 7 should be a similar experience for this team as the one they went through Monday night. Predators Coach Peter Laviolette said, “The guys should be excited. Our Game 7 is really no different than our Game 6. If we didn’t win last night (Monday) we were done. So, I think we’ve got that going for us. We’ve already taken on an elimination game as a young group and found success.”
That’s the message. This is an elimination game, just like the one they won Monday night at Bridgestone Arena. Anaheim will feel the weight of that pressure tonight. Anaheim is the favorite, playing at home and most think they will win. As Willie Daunic pointed out on the Fox Sports-TN broadcast prior to Game 1, 51 of 54 NHL experts they found predicted that the Ducks would win the series. James Neal said the Ducks have the pressure on their collective shoulders, “The pressure’s been on them the whole series. Everyone’s picked them to win so we know what kind of team we have here in Nashville and you know we did everything all year to push ourselves to this point, you know, why not win one more game?” Exactly. Why not?
Pekka Rinne will have to be great tonight. Other players have the luxury of being able to go through an elimination game without playing their best individual hockey and the team could still win. Rinne cannot. He has to be great tonight for his team to win. He was exceptional in Game 6 and he’s excited to play a Game 7. “It’s one of those things where you just, you know, one game matters and you try to bring everything you have to that one game and try to focus on just worrying about your own game and just bring the best you can play but at the same time try to stay loose and just focused and relaxed.”
Pekka has to be focused and relaxed which is easier said than done. But again, the hope from a Predators perspective can be found in the elimination game win Monday night. That was a nice step for this young group win or lose tonight. They had a big game opportunity and they won.
Adam Vingan points out in the Tennessean that the Predators have six players on their roster that have played in a Game 7. Their collective record is 1-10. Head Coach Peter Laviolette, on the other hand, is 4-1 as a coach in Game 7s. Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau is 1-6 in Game 7s. And there’s this, the last three Anaheim seasons have ended with Game 7 losses at home.
Prediction time: Before the series began, I was asked by @501Broadway on twitter to predict the outcome of Predators v. Ducks. I tweeted, “Preds in 7.” Every Friday at 5:15pm on 3HL on 104.5 The Zone in Nashville, we do a segment entitled, “Call Your Shot, presented by Old Hickory Whiskey.” Last Friday my shot was this; the Preds will lose game 5, then win games 6 and 7. I’m sticking to my original and then updated thought. I think the Predators will beat the Ducks tonight, 3-2.
What do you think happens?