On the prowl

How the Preda­tors reached their first Stan­ley Cup fi­nal

Cape Breton Post - - Sports - BY JONAS SIEGEL

Ten years ago the Nashville Preda­tors scooped up fu­ture Hall of Famer Peter Fors­berg at the trade dead­line and fin­ished with the NHL’s third-best record. A deep run seemed in­evitable. In­stead, the Preds were bounced in the first round and failed to win the first play­off series in team his­tory for another four sea­sons.

This spring, with the worst record of the 16 play­off teams, the Preds have ad­vanced to the first Stan­ley Cup fi­nal in team his­tory.

How did they do it? Here are a few rea­sons:

PEKKA RINNE

The 34-year-old has siz­zled with a .941 save per­cent­age in 16 post-sea­son starts. He was es­pe­cially su­perb against Chicago in the first round — stop­ping 123-of-126 shots — and then again more re­cently as the Preds closed out the Ducks in the Western Con­fer­ence fi­nal.

The Finn had two spe­cial sea­sons (2010-2012) early in his ca­reer with Nashville — a Vez­ina tro­phy fi­nal­ist in each — but was some­thing closer to av­er­age af­ter that. He’s tied with Detroit’s Jimmy Howard for the 18th best save per­cent­age (.914) among goalies who started at least 200 games since the start of the 2012-13 sea­son.

None of that mat­ters now.

DE­FENCE

The engine of ev­ery­thing Nashville is a top-notch de­fence, fronted by the im­pos­ing four­some of P.K. Sub­ban, Mat­tias Ekholm, Ro­man Josi and Ryan El­lis — each of whom is av­er­ag­ing more than 24 min­utes this spring.

The Preds have got­ten 11 goals and 42 points from the de­fence in th­ese play­offs. But it’s not only about of­fence.

Nashville is an elite puck pos­ses­sion team, one that’s held op­po­nents to fewer than 30 shots and less than two goals against per-game dur­ing the play­offs.

Sub­ban and Ekholm, in par­tic­u­lar, man­aged to con­trol the puck against the Ducks (53 per cent pos­ses­sion) while also neu­tral­iz­ing a pre­vi­ously-dom­i­nant Ryan Get­zlaf. The Ana­heim cap­tain was held to a sin­gle as­sist in the last four games of the series and failed to score even once through­out the con­fer­ence fi­nal.

FORS­BERG

Filip Fors­berg has been pretty good for a while now with an av­er­age of 30 goals and 62 points in his first three full NHL sea­sons. He’s added another eight goals and 15 points in 16 games in th­ese play­offs, dom­i­nat­ing with his speed, shot and skill against the Ducks.

Even-strength shot at­tempts were 109-75 for Nashville (59 per cent) when he was on the ice against Ana­heim.

The Swede had a point in ev­ery game of the con­fer­ence fi­nal and rides a seven-game point streak into the Cup fi­nal.

DEPTH

A must for any Cup con­tender, the Preds have found mean­ing­ful con­tri­bu­tions from ev­ery­where. Notable among them is Colton Sis­sons, who notched a hat trick in Game 6 against the Ducks and has five goals on 14 shots this spring. The former 2012 sec­on­dround pick has as many points (10) in 16 play­off games as he had in 58 dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son.

Se­lected 13 spots be­fore Sis­sons in 2012 was Pon­tus Aberg, who scored the even­tual Game 5 vs. Ana­heim and posted a 56 per cent pos­ses­sion mark for the series. Then there’s Austin Wat­son, a meat-and-pota­toes former first-round pick who scored three in the last two games of the con­fer­ence fi­nal. He’s dished out a team-high 81 hits in the play­offs and blocked 21 shots.

Six­teen dif­fer­ent play­ers have scored for the Preds in the post-sea­son, in­clud­ing fourth line tough guy Cody McLeod. Nashville notably closed out Ana­heim with­out Ryan Jo­hansen (done for the year with a hip in­jury), cap­tain Mike Fisher or Kevin Fiala, an emerg­ing former first-round pick.

COACH­ING

The Preds fired Barry Trotz, the only coach in fran­chise his­tory to that point, af­ter miss­ing out on a sec­ond straight post­sea­son in 2014.

Enter Peter Lavi­o­lette, who won a Cup with Carolina in 2006 and went to the Cup fi­nal with Philadel­phia in 2010.

Push­ing an up-tempo brand of hockey, Lavi­o­lette got Nashville back into the play­offs in his first sea­son, into the sec­ond round in his sec­ond and into the first con­fer­ence and Cup fi­nal for the fran­chise this spring.

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Ana­heim Ducks goalie Jonathan Bernier kneels on the ice as Nashville Preda­tors’ Filip Fors­berg (left) and Pon­tus Aberg cel­e­brate a goal by team­mate Colton Sis­sons (not shown) dur­ing Game 6 of the Western Con­fer­ence fi­nal in the NHL Stan­ley Cup play­offs Mon­day in Nashville, Tenn.

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