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Rising like a phoenix, Nashville forces another game seven

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Go big or go home? The Predators dug themselves in a hole and stormed out of it like they had a rocket attached to their backsides. Thursday night it'll come down to a winner-take-all game seven in San Jose.

Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Bring home the boys and scrap scrap metal the tanks
Get hitched and make a career out of robbing banks
Because the world is just a teller and we are wearing black masks
"You broke our spirit," says the note we pass

So we can take the world back from the heart-attacked
One maniac at a time we will take it back
You know time crawls on when you're waiting for the song to start
So dance alone to the beat of your heart

Hey young blood
Doesn't it feel like our time is running out?
I'm gonna change you like a remix
Then I'll raise you like a phoenix

"The Phoenix", by Fall Out Boy, may have summed up game six perfectly for Nashville.

Facing elimination, the Predators hit the ice like a ton of bricks to open the night -- continuing the trend of negatively-paced play since the tail-end of game four.

The Sharks gave them zero breathing room. Chris Tierney made it 2-0 for San Jose in a two minute span midway through the opening frame, sucking the life out of the gold-laden crowd and putting the onus squarely on the Predators to make a move or get out of the way.

As the playoffs stretch on, you start to see some crazy things happen. Saves you didn't know were possible. Hits that rival what you see on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Goals that bounce through four people, touch three sets of legs and five sticks before ending up in the net.

Nashville found a way to break through and, of course, it was one of those crazy unexpected goals that started its climb from the pile of smoldering ashes that were left earlier in the period.

With an exhaustive sigh, the Predators announced to the rest of the hockey world they had had enough.

Roman Josi's backhand shot four minutes after Tierney's second wound up bouncing over Martin Jones and into the net, cutting the Sharks lead to one.

San Jose clawed its way out of the period with the one-goal lead, but they couldn't stop the Predators war machine as it stormed out of the gates to start the second.

Ryan Johansen tied it less than 90 seconds in on a five-hole shot past Jones, seemingly slowing the world down to a crawl as he picked apart the Sharks defenders to make his way to the net.

The next 30 minutes of hockey directly belonged to the Predators.

"Our start was a little slow and once we got going and got back to doing the things that make us successful, playing Preds hockey, we were unstoppable at times," said Johansen. "We played a great game the last 45 minutes and hats off to every guy in this room. Being resilient and not quitting and finding a way to win."

Whether it was the roars of 17,292 fans behind them disrupting lines of communications across the ice or the thought of "just one more goal", Nashville battled its way through the neutral zone against a Sharks team that hadn't allowed much ground over the past five periods of hockey.

Even after a rare Pekka Rinne mistake halfway through the final frame, one that gave San Jose a lead on a power play goal, it only intensified the relentless attack that Nashville poured on Jones.

It took less than three minutes for the Predators to tie the game, and it came on one of the best setup plays Nashville has executed in the playoffs so far.

"Say whatever you want about the call, I guess. We disagreed with it a little bit, but that's part of the game," Johansen said. "We just felt like that wasn't going to beat us. The way we were playing, it wasn't over."

Mike Ribeiro, who's been the goat for the fans thus far, slid a gorgeous pass over to James Neal, who rifled it over to a wide open Colin Wilson, depositing the puck past Jones and tying the game at three.

"I was pretty upset after that goal, for myself. I slipped and they took advantage of it," said Rinne. "Our resposne was unbelievable. The end of the third period, we just dominated and created a lot of chances. A huge goal by Willy and a nice set up by Nealer. That was such a big goal to tie it up, especially after giving up that third goal."

"I wanted to thank the guys when they scored that third goal. It's a terrible feeling when you do something, fall down or something like that and you see the puck go in. It's a pretty helpless feeling. After that and the way the guys responded, it's unbelievable."

Then, the dread set in. Was the season going to end on some weird bounce? Something late that dashed Nashville's hopes of its first-ever run to a potential Stanley Cup in a few weeks? Overtime was seemingly inevitable at this point; a foregone conclusion to most of us in the media watching from high atop Bridgestone Arena.

But who would be the hero? And would they be wearing gold?

Peter Laviolette spoke earlier on Monday about the need to shift things around, trying to find some type of balance between his non-productive lines outside of Neal, Wilson and Mike Fisher.

In moving things around, Viktor Arvidsson -- who's speeds into the zone and fires the puck maybe better than everyone else on Nashville's roster -- found himself now lined with Johansen and Filip Forsberg in an effort to pair speed with speed.

"Ultimately, you're trying to get some productions from different pieces and different parts of the line-up," said Laviolette. "Where everybody didn't play the game that I think we're capable of in game five and you address things and meet with the players, there's usually a good response. We just had a feeling that Arvy was going to be a guy that would be a non-stop worker out there and use his speed to try and get in on the forecheck or make things happen."

That was the change that Nashville needed. Nine different players factored into the scoring for the Predators, not one player earning more than one point each.

The most important point, though, came with the final goal. Streaking through the neutral zone, Arvidsson powered his way towards Jones all the while being covered by Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Putting a brilliant backhander towards the net, it hit the top corner and rippled the net, ending the game only two minutes into overtime.

"It was just great for him. He's such a fun player to watch," Laviolette said. "He got some speed behind him in the neutral zone. He was able to turn it over, get an angle and get a shot off. It was a great shot. I think more than anything it was just trying to get more people involved."

Again, the Predators force a series-deciding game seven. They took care of business against Anaheim. Can they win one more? A trip to the Western Conference Finals is the reward, and it's a prize Nashville has never earned before.

"Our team is built up with such great people, with work ethics that don't come around every day," said Johansen. "Guys really leave it on the ice every game. When you put 20 men together that are on the same page and are doing the best they can for the team, you're going to get guys being successful and get team success."

If there was ever a Predators roster that could march into the Western Conference Finals, and maybe beyond, it's this one.