You bet it was a glorious celebratory Sunday afternoon. Nashville went from Tune Town to Hockey Town.
Make no mistake. These Predators made it happen. They are going where no previous Predators teams have skated.
With a nervous 3-1 win over the Blues Sunday and closing out the Blues 4-2 games in the best of seven series, they will be the first Predators to win two series. They will now play for the Western Conference title. If successful, they will be the first Predators to play for the coveted Stanley Cup, the NHL’s highest honor.
Mike Fisher was among the celebrating Predators after an empty netter by Calle Jarnrok with an assist from fellow Swede and the veteran goalie Pekka Rinne closed out the Blues.
The Predators got off to a slow start. They were clearly out of sync. The sellout Bridgestone Arena crowd was equally nervous. The last thing they wanted to do was to return to St. Louis for a Game 7.
“We started slow, but we responded,’’ Fisher said. “It was hard to hear in the third period. The whole town is behind us, but it’s not going to get any easier.’’
Rinne was vintage Rinne. He swallowed 23 of 24 Blues shots aimed at him.
“It’s been a long journey,’’ he said. “Finally we’re heading to the Western Conference finals. I’m jacked up.’’
Rinne has benefitted from a Predators defense that played magnificently in the first two series.
“They can skate,’’ Rinne said of his defensive teammates. “They create offense for us.’’
Roman Josi was a perfect example that Rinne pointed to.
Trailing 1-0 after the rocky first period, and the Predators top line playing with lumps in their throats, Josi scored his fourth goal of the six-game series. It tied things up, 1-all.
The Preds had gone four power plays and had nothing to show for it. Tied 1-1 through two periods, the third period was one Preds fans will remember for a long time.
Ryan Johansen put the Predators ahead for keeps at 2-1. It was his first goal for the playoffs. Johansen broke away, racing full speed toward Blues goalie Jake Allen. He took a pass from Viktor Arvidsson to set him up. Johansen deked Allen and snapped a back-hander by him for the 2-1 lead.
Jarnrok’s empty netter gave all the insurance the Predators would need at 3-1.
They will now face the winner of the Anaheim-Edmonton series sometime next week. As an 8-seed, the Predators will open the series on the road.
Give Coach Peter Laviolette ample credit. He molded a more offensive minded roster. He not only calmed the Predators down after the sloppy first period in this series.
The first Predators to make the playoffs were the 2004 team. Laviolette is a big cog in this historic chapter of the Predators. He will continue to pull the right strings and this team may have more chapters to put in the history books.
Joe Biddle is a WKRN.com sports columnist. He is also a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.