The Nashville Predators are going to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history following a 6-3 victory over the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Final on Monday night in Bridgestone Arena.
Colton Sissons registered a hat trick to propel the Predators' attack, while Pekka Rinne made 38 saves, offsetting a 41-18 edge in shots in favor of Anaheim.
Not even half of the opening period had elapsed by the time the Predators took a two-goal lead.
Austin Watson opened the scoring 1:21 into the game. Watson received an assist from Ducks defenseman Brandon Montour, who deflected the puck into his own net with his left skate. The NHL shared a replay of the goal:
It didn't take long to get the Nashville crowd roaring. #StanleyCup https://t.co/h1QUVEmobO2017-5-23 00:31:45
A little over seven minutes later, Sissons doubled the home team's lead with a quick wrist shot that froze Ducks goaltender Jonathan Bernier:
The @PredsNHL got the start that they - and their fans - were looking for. #StanleyCup https://t.co/ZGDIOkFzik2017-5-23 00:47:04
While Nashville couldn't have envisaged a better start, the Predators' momentum didn't carry over much longer. The absences of Mike Fisher and Ryan Johansen loomed large as Nashville's attack dried up and the team went into a defensive shell.
Taking advantage of the gun-shy Predators, the Ducks halved the deficit at the 4:45 mark of the second period. Ryan Getzlaf delivered a perfect pass to Ondrej Kase in front of goal, and the 21-year-old forward didn't miss with his close-range effort.
The Orange County Register's Eric Stephens was impressed by what he saw from Kase on the ice:
Eric Stephens @icemancometh
Ondrej Kase really showing himself in this game. Can be a nice productive winger for Ducks in future.2017-5-23 01:24:08
The Predators relied heavily on Rinne to preserve the 2-1 lead. Through two periods, Anaheim owned a 26-8 shot advantage, leading to SB Nation's On the Forecheck to make this blunt assessment:
On The Forecheck @OnTheForecheck
Eight shots is not a lot.2017-5-23 01:46:45
NHL.com's Robby Stanley worried Rinne was having to shoulder too much:
Robby Stanley @RStanleyNHL
Unless the #Preds start spending less time in their zone, it's going to take a super-human effort by Rinne for them to win this game.2017-5-23 01:44:56
Having already combined to score earlier in the game, Sissons and Pontus Aberg connected again to give the Predators a much-needed goal at the 3:00 mark of the third period, putting Nashville ahead 3-1.
Just as the home crowd let out a sigh of relief, though, Chris Wagner answered back two minutes later to again make it a one-goal game. Then, with 8:52 gone in the period, Cam Fowler tied the game with a well-placed shot that eluded Rinne.
With six minutes left in regulation, Sissons carved out a place in Predators history forever when he completed his hat trick and put Nashville ahead 4-3. Penalty Box Radio's Justin Bradford tweeted how the 2016-17 season has been a roller coaster for Sissons:
Justin Bradford @justinbbradford
Colton Sissons was scratched multiple times in the regular season as part of a numbers game...he has a Western Conference Final hat trick.2017-5-23 02:45:28
NXT champion Bobby Roode, whose entrance song "Glorious Domination" has become the Predators' theme throughout the postseason, celebrated the goal:
Bobby Roode @REALBobbyRoode
Play the song and score a goal @PredsNHL #Glorious2017-5-23 02:40:35
Watson and Filip Forsberg each scored an empty-net goal to put the game out of reach for good.
The Predators now await the outcome of the Eastern Conference Final to find out their opponent in the Stanley Cup Final. The Pittsburgh Penguins have a 3-2 series lead over the Ottawa Senators and blitzed the Senators for a 7-0 victory in Game 5.
Ottawa will host Game 6 Tuesday night.
No matter which team Nashville plays, the injuries to Fisher and Johansen will be a big factor. The Predators will hope the cliche that defense wins championships will hold true in the next round.
The Predators survived Game 6 while opting for a defense-heavy game plan, and based on their defensive performance throughout the postseason, the trend could continue. Nashville is allowing a playoff-best 1.63 goals per game. Maintaining that success could have the Predators lifting their first Stanley Cup.