Nashville Predators - Yellow Fever
Western Conference Semifinal Game 3 - Vancouver 3, Nashville 2 (OT) – Canucks lead series, 2-1
The sea of yellow shirts that lit up the Bridgestone Arena last night made it unmistakably visible that hockey is thriving in the unexpected location of Nashville. Despite an overtime loss, the Predators continued to show why they are a force to be reckoned with, and will continue to be for years to come.
Milestones and accolades have been the capstones on another solid season for Nashville. In a season which has seen the Music City crew reach the Western Conference semi-final for the first time in the franchises 13 year history, members of the organization have been thus far nominated for an impressive four NHL awards: coach Barry Trotz for the Jack Adams Award as the league’s best bench boss, defenseman Shea Weber for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defender, goaltender Pekka Rinne for the Vezina Trophy as the most outstanding backstop, and general manager David Poile for GM of the Year.
Thanks to the craftsmanship of David Poile, Barry Trotz has his usual crew of decently talented, hard-working forwards ahead of a stalwart defense and unflappable goalie. After handling the hot Anaheim Ducks and their high-powered offense, the Preds have earned a matchup against the season’s top team, the Vancouver Canucks. Despite an offense which boasts the Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler, and Alex Burrows among other talented scorers, Barry Trotz’s tight defensive game has kept the scoring low from the Canucks. The Predators are down by only one game three games into the series, and so far, every game has been decided by only one goal, including two overtime games. Their hard-working, gritty style of play is the perfect matchup to counter a team with such skill. Anyone who noticed the effect of Dave Bolland’s return to the Chicago lineup on the Canucks offense could see that a team that wished to take down the top-seeded Canucks would need to give hard-nosed effort night in and night out.
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While the Predators lack of scoring might be the one aspect of their game working against them in these playoffs, the future for this organization looks as bright as the blindingly yellow Bridgestone Arena crowd. The Predators are young, with only 4 players on the roaster born before 1980 (Steve Sullivan, J.P.Dumont, Jerred Smithson, and Francis Bouillon), and have plenty of time to come into their own. A good team starts from the bottom up, and an elite team needs an elite goalie as a strong foundation. The Vezina-nominated Pekka Rinne is just 28 years old and has had three consecutive strong seasons. He is consistently spectacular and will remain a sturdy backbone for the Predators. His style of play matched with his massive 6’5” frame frustrate opposing forwards on the best of chances. If he should leave Nashville or begin to falter, the even larger 6’6” Anders Lindback is just 23 years of age, and looked very capable in relief of Rinne in his rookie season.
A strong defense makes a spectacular goalie’s work even easier. The old adage is defense wins championships, and the Predators defense is definitely a strong asset. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are as good a top pair as you could want in the NHL. They were drafted in the 1 st and 2 nd round in 2003, and are still young at age 25 and 26. They are a strong top tandem for the defensive corps to build around, and bring both offensive skill and defensive prowess. Captain Weber, a nominee for the Norris Trophy, has scored over 40 points in 4 of his 6 NHL seasons. Meanwhile, Suter has topped 30 points in his last 4 seasons. These two young stars will be a strong presence on the Predators blue line for years to come, and there is plenty of talent in the pipeline behind them. 22-year old Jonathan Blum has been impressive late in the season into the playoffs, and 20-year-old prospect Ryan Ellis was named OHL player of the year.
Up front, the Predators have young talent in the system waiting to have breakout performances, most notably five under 25 talented forwards. Sergei Kostitsyn, the 24-year-old former Montreal winger, celebrated his first season in Nashville by scoring 23 goals and tying Martin Erat for the team lead with 50 points. After a 30-performance a season ago, 24-year-old Patric Hornqvist, who was the last pick taken in the 2005 draft, dropped to 21 goals this season, but still has plenty of offensive talent to rebound next season. 23-year-old rookie Blake Geoffrion has hockey talent in his blood. He is a fourth generation NHLer, and a descendent of Hall of Famers Bernie Geoffrion and Howie Morenz. He was a late-season call-up who impressed with 6 goals in just 20 games, including a hat trick in Buffalo. 22-year-old Matt Halischuk scored 12 points in 29 games this season, and scored the double overtime winner against Vancouver in Game 2. Rounding out this impressive young offense is 21-year-old center Colin Wilson. The former Boston University star had 16 goals for Nashville this season.
This youthful talent up front is a sign of things to come for the Predators, but they could still use a big goal scorer and gifted centerman to help their offense. After all, their leading scorer had only 50 points this year. David Poile showed at the Trade Deadline that he is looking for a specific type of player when he picked up only Mike Fisher, who is paying off in the playoffs. Poile will have to be more adventurous with his signings in the offseason to bring in offensive firepower. He has a decent amount of cap space to work with, and if he can find a good mix between offensive skill and a defensive system, he could have Music City singing about Stanley in the very near future.
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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