ANAHEIM - APRIL 22: The Nashville Predators mob Jerred Smithson #25 after his game winning goal in overtime against the Anaheim Ducks in Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Honda Center on April 22, 2011 in Anaheim, California. The Predators won 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
I'll admit it: I didn't believe.
When Bobby Ryan put the Nashville Predators down 2-1 with one of the most spectacular individual efforts you'll ever see, deja vu crept in. After all, the Preds had been to five game fives and lost every one, none in more excruciating fashion than last season's against the Chicago Blackhawks, and they had shown an alarming tendency to shoot themselves in the foot. Some of you still held out hope, I'm sure, and were rewarded, but I was too afraid that history, once again, would repeat itself.
I was wrong.
The chaos began inconspicuously enough. At 11:20 of the third, Joel Ward nullified the Ryan goal, taking advantage of Ray Emery's challenges getting from post-to-post by slamming home his own rebound, and so, we began to hope again, at least until Jason Blake potted his second of the night barely three minutes later to make it 3-2.
Very often, hockey is a cruel mistress. The late game ebb and flow is rarely good for one's heart, and it seems as if hopes are always up only to be dashed in a miserable fashion. I mean, really - does pulling the goaltender for the extra attacker ever work?
On this night, the answer would be a rather resounding yes. If the Predators go on to win the series, there will be many plays that could be considered a turning point, but you'd be hard pressed to find one more important than Mike Fisher's faceoff win with just 39 seconds to go in the third. Fisher beat Saku Koivu, and the puck reached Cody Franson at the right point, who fed it to captain Shea Weber.
It's common knowledge that Shea Weber has perhaps the most dangerous (in multiple ways) point shot in the game today, but Preds fans often would like to see him imitate Franson and go with a quick wrist shot that might work it's way through traffic. This time, that's exactly what he did. With both J.P. Dumont (!) and Patric Hornqvist screening Emery in front, the puck miraculously found it's way to the back of the net, and we had our first hero.
That Shea Weber scored the goal was only fitting; he's undoubtedly Nashville's best skater and the uncontested face of the franchise, but if you were concerned with how the overtime period would go, you were not alone - the Preds had been to overtime in Game 5 two years in a row, losing both times. The difference this time, though, was that Nashville scored to tie the game late as opposed to being scored on like last year in Chicago. All the momentum was theirs.
1:47 into the overtime period, Jerred Smithson hit Ducks forward Brandon McMillan, freeing up the puck for Jordin Tootoo. Tootoo put not one, but two shots on net, and still managed to retrieve his own rebound behind the Anaheim net.
In the first period, Jordin Tootoo made what was likely the pass of his career on Kevin Klein's goal. Tootoo's overtime assist was not quite as difficult, but boy, was it ever gorgeous.
Shea Weber leads the Nashville Predators, and Pekka Rinne is their most valuable player, but perhaps no player personifies the team more than utility center Jerred Smithson. As fitting as it was for Weber to tie the game, the fact that Smithson put home Tootoo's pass for the most important goal in franchise history is representative of the "Predator way". It's rarely pretty and is almost never easy, but I'll be damned if it didn't come through.
We often wonder if this year's team is different, if they can get over the proverbial hump and advance into the second round. I honestly don't know the answer to that question, but I do know this: in last season's game 5, the Chicago Blackhawks tied the game with the extra attacker on and won it early in overtime. This year's game 5? The Predators tied the game with the extra attacker and won it early in overtime.
What happens from here, who really knows - the Preds could lose two games in a row and find themselves eliminated once again, or they could close it out at home tomorrow afternoon. For now, though, they've exorcised the demons of April 24, 2010, and in doing so, history, finally, has been made.