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Breaking Down James Neal’s Game 1 Overtime Winner

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The build up to the goal was as beautiful as the goal itself.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Nashville Predators at Anaheim Ducks Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

When the Predators wasted an opportunity to take the lead on that 5-on-3 power play in the 3rd period, I thought they might have wasted the opportunity to take Game 1.

I was obviously wrong.

I bet a lot of Preds fans felt the same way. The Ducks were completely on their heels after having just tied the game and started sending pucks into the stands. A two man advantage on the power play can be a huge momentum swing, no matter what happens. It definitely swung momentum to the Ducks.

But the Preds held on and pushed the game to overtime. Somehow the Preds found their legs again and started pressing hard into the Ducks zone. They started working the cycle again, winning puck battles, and making smart passes to keep the play alive.

It all led to an amazing sequence that epitomizes what these Predators are all about.

It starts with Mattias Ekholm. He was amazing the entire game last night, finishing with two points, four shots, and two blocks in 31:05, but it was this play right here that made the game winning play happen.

First, he’s right where he needs to be when James Neal wins the puck on the boards.

Ekholm recognizes that the Ducks have for some reason vacated the entire left circle. He can skate well with the puck, so he takes advantage.

At this point, Ekholm transforms into a battering ram. He sees the enemy fortified in its seaside castle and he knows that all he needs to do is leverage the smallest of cracks in its wall and victory will be his.

The maneuver was a success. Many cravens died on the battlefield. Those that didn’t would soon be overwhelmed by invading armies.

But the battle is not won yet!

The puck is still free and Ekholm is drawn to it like a magnet. He’s got his head up and instantly finds Subban.

This is just amazing. Look what Subban’s presence does to the Ducks. He’s got that slap shot cranked and ready to go, so the Ducks have to bite.

But he passes to Neal, who got the whole thing started with a puck battle on the boards. Now he has oodles of net to shoot at.

Now my favorite part of the play.

Yep, that’s right. The puck shot off of Corey Perry’s stupid ugly face and bounced in the net. Preds win, twice.

From forward to defenseman to defenseman to forward. From blue-line to circle to slot to other circle to blue-line again to other circle to goal.

Speed, size, strength, and skill.

Watch the goal here: