A short-handed goal by David Legwand (center) got the Nashville Predators off to a fast start in Game Three of the Preds’ Stanley Cup Semifinal series against the Vancouver Canucks, Tuesday Night at Bridgestone Arena. However, the sold-out, ‘Gold-Out’ crowd would go home disappointed as the Canucks prevailed in overtime, 3-2. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)Brown-Out?
Hockey fans and observers alike have expressed frustration over the talent-laden Vancouver Canucks’ recent inability to play to their potential on the big stage. In each of the past two seasons the team had been ousted from the playoffs by what was originally regarded as an upstart Chicago Blackhawks squad against whom the Canucks were favored. However, of course, the Hawks lessened the blow for everyone who thought they weren’t that good last season by going all the way to capture their first Stanley Cup Championship in 49 years.
Nonetheless, that outcome was of little comfort in the city of Vancouver, where the frustration coming into this season in was palpable. Fortunately for Canucks fans, their team thwarted Chicago’s attempt at a third consecutive attempt to again knock veteran, playoff-favorite Vancouver off their perch, although not before extending them to seven games in Round One as an eighth seed.
The Canucks had finally slain their proverbial dragon.
The question now in the mind of many critically (and cynically) thinking hockey observers is whether or not the Nashville Predators will now assume that position of upstart spoiler to once again stand in the path of the 2010-11 President’s Trophy winners, which the B.C. faithful unabashedly assume should be one of fairly clear sailing to a Cup that’s theirs for the taking.
The Preds nevertheless looked to be every bit the fly in the ointment for the Canucks that they have been for all their opponents this season, having split the series’ opening two games in Vancouver and efforting to take a significant advantage on home ice in this week’s pair of games here in Nashville, beginning Tuesday night at sold-out Bridgestone Arena.
However, after the 3-2 overtime loss to the Canucks, the Cinderella coach on which the Predators rode into Music City seemed to take on a rather pumpkin-ish hue (or was that simply the orange afterglow of all those team-supplied ‘Gold-Out’ tshirts the fans were wearing?) as the disappointed faithful filed out into the night. The Canucks had seemed resolute in their effort to right the wrongs of last Saturday’s double overtime loss to the Preds, who outplayed them in every phase of the game, finally winning the tightly-contested affair on a sniper shot by forward Matt Hallischuk.
However, the glass slipper was definitely on the other foot in this contest, as the Canucks stymied any sustained offense the Predators sought to generate, won the battles for loose pucks, stifling passing lanes, and interruped Nashville’s puck movement at nearly every turn. It wasn’t a complete role reversal from Saturday’s game, but it was definitely in the neighborhood.
The Canucks now take a two-games-to-one lead into Game Four here on Thursday, before the series returns to Vancouver on Saturday.
Fool Me Once…
If Head Coach Barry Trotz hadn’t made his point clearly enough following Nashville’s dismal efffort in last Thursday’s Game One 1-0 Vancouver whitewash — a game in which Nashville’s star goaltender Pekka Rinne was the only thing separating the Preds from a blowout loss to begin this second round semifinal series — hopefully he now has all the evidence he needs.
There is no question that Vancouver is the more talented team offensively. Nevertheless, Nashville’s ability to disrupt what they like to do is there to be exploited. However, that ability only becomes a factor if the Preds’ compete level is up to par. Tuesday night Vancouver matched and exceeded the Predators’ effort, and that factor was the difference in the game. They weathered the Nashville storm, then took the game over when they had to.
The Canucks looked the part and played the part of the resilient champion-in-waiting their fans hope they will soon become.
Nonetheless, the Stanley Cup isn’t automatically awarded to the team with the most talent; it’s awarded to the team with the best resolve, and whom with that uses their own measure of talent to outlast the field. The Preds have proven, both in the regular season and here in the playoffs, that they can out-compete their opponents; that was not the case in Game Three. They will need to show up for Thursday’s contest with the same desperation they displayed in Game Two, then wash, rinse, and repeat that effort until there are literally no games left to play.
It’s a long grind to the Stanley Cup; there are no shortcuts. This is a hard lesson for the Preds, but one they must learn from if they hope to make it beyond this most daunting of hurdles. It’s still a matter of will.
Vancouver is ‘supposed’ to win this series, but that doesn’t mean they will; if Nashville can play to the compete level they displayed last Saturday night at Rogers Arena for 60 minutes — as they indeed DID on Saturday — they can be victorious in this series. It might not make them this season’s Chicago Blackhawks, but it could certainly go a long way toward making Vancouver fans believe that dragons are forever.
* * * * *