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Here’s What Worked: Rinne, WCFG5CW, and the Young Guns

The Predators called on the “next man” and he answered.

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

The Predators went into Anaheim and stunned everyone with a 3-1 win, despite not having captain Mike Fisher and top line center Ryan Johansen.

Well, they stunned everyone except for guys like Mattias Ekholm, of course.

“I think it’s more media that thinks, like, ‘Oh sh**, here we go, this is never gonna work,’ we just know we have these guys down our depth chart that can just step up whenever,” Ekholm said after the game in an interview with NHL Network.

“Guys are ready, guys are in game shape and ready to go when they get the assignment. So I don’t think anyone was really worried about anything more than just go out and play hockey.”

Ekholm’s attitude seems to mirror the rest of the locker room. The Predators played a relatively complete hockey game, despite missing two key players. They finished the game with a 52.6% shot attempt for percentage, scored three goals, and kept the Ducks frustrated with more of the 1-3-1 neutral zone trap that we saw in the Blackhawks series.

There’s a lot of reasons the Preds are now one win away from playing for the Stanley Cup. Here are just a few from last night.

Pekka Freaking Rinne

After a couple of average performances, Pekka Rinne turned in one of the best single game performances of his playoffs career. Add last night to an already incredible list of performances in the playoffs so far: back-to-back shutouts in Chicago, Game 4 against the Blues, the sweep game against the Blackhawks, etc. Last night belongs on the list.

With jigsaw forward lines and a defense hungry to contribute offensively, the Predators needed Rinne’s best, and boy did he deliver. Stopping 32 of 33 shots, including seven huge stops on the penalty kill, he kept the game close for 60 minutes.

Rinne was especially effective with his pads last night, like here on Sami Vatanen...

And this huge save on Nick Ritchie in the slot...

Then there is this double stop early in the 3rd period. This might have been his most important save of the night.

If the Ducks score here, it’s a 2-1 lead and the Preds have to push all their resources into tying it up, possibly leaving them open to counter attacks. Instead, Rinne stopped both Ryan Kesler and Andrew Cogliano to keep the game tied.

It’s impossible to measure the value that Rinne brought to the Preds last night. He was sensational.

Western Conference Final Game 5 Colin Wilson

I guess we just need to come up with new nicknames for this guy, because they never seem to hold up over time.

(Or maybe Colin Wilson has always been the same player and we just have a strange bias towards him because everyone thought he would be a 1C, when he clearly wasn’t, and that has manifested into this campy name-game because we don’t know what kind of player he is. I mean, Austin Watson was a 1st rounder, but the expectations are different for some reason and he doesn’t get called Regular Season Austin Watson when all he does is hit folks and play on the penalty kill)

Anyways, Wilson was fantastic last night when the Predators really needed him to be. He played well in every facet of the game, generating a team best +13 Corsi in all situations. At even strength, he picked his spots well, making sure to pass at the right time and using his speed appropriately—much in the way that Johansen does—and he found himself on the plus end of many puck battles that lesser forwards might not win.

Wilson had a positive impact—producing more shot attempts than he allowed— in 12 of his 18 shifts last night.

That’s remarkable consistency, something that he hasn’t had in this postseason so far.

Two of those shifts were on the power play, where Wilson was also very effective. Of all the possible Johansen replacements as the trigger man on the power play, Wilson might be the most effective. He is usually strong on the puck in the offensive zone, he has great vision and passing, and he reads the cycle well enough to anticipate where holes in the defensive structure will open up.

Most importantly he has the hands to do something like this:

I didn’t go back and check this for accuracy, but I think that’s the only backhanded PPG from the slot scored by the Predators this year. Most of the Preds’ power play tallies are either quick rebounds or deflections in front after a bomb from the point. Even when they do score directly from the slot, most of those are either Neal or Forsberg wristing one home. This power play goal stands out to me as particularly unique.

It’s Wilson’s instinct, rather than his hands, that made this kind of play happen. Most players would try to spin around and get the puck on their dominant hand, but Wilson knew he had very little time. Knowing his own skill with the puck, he opted for a quick release from a deceptive angle rather than a harder, more predictable shot.

We’ve waited to see this kind of performance from Wilson in a playoff game and we finally got it last night.

Next Man Up

What can you say about the play of Pontus Aberg and Frederick Gaudreau last night? In short, they were more than the Preds could have asked for, but these guys have been waiting for opportunities all season.

Aberg scored 31 goals in 56 games this year for Milwaukee, proving that he can at least be a scoring threat when called upon. He has amazing speed and can puck handle with the best of them. His chemistry with Filip Forsberg only got better as the game went on, which is promising.

His game winning goal was a thing of beauty, too. He had been getting so close to scoring, especially in Game 4, that it was such a relief to see him finally get a wide open look (after a brilliant play by Mattias Ekholm and a shot by Forsberg).

He had to leave the game due to concussion protocol, but he returned to the game and is reportedly feeling fine.

Gaudreau brings a more defensive game. He’s a great forechecker and has a very active stick, poking away passes and getting in the way of shots. He played over four minutes against Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, helping hold them to only four shot attempts—and zero points— in that time. He looked very comfortable out there, probably because of all the black ace options, he is the most ready to play the type of game the Preds needed last night.

Many were impressed with his faceoff ability last night, where he won 10 of 14 draws, a skill that he grew while honing his game in Milwaukee.

Not bad for an undrafted player.

Colton Sissons also had an incredible game, playing top line minutes in place of Johansen. He played over eight minutes against the Getzlaf line, producing more shot attempts than he allowed. He also won several key faceoffs.

As much as they might not want to admit it, the Predators needed certain players to step up and play well in the absence of guys like Joey, Fisher, and Craig Smith. Colin Wilson was one guy the Preds really needed to step up, and he did. But it’s how the young guys played that might be most impressive. Sissons, Aberg, Gaudreau— all of them helped solidify the biggest win in franchise history, setting up a chance to clinch the series at home on Monday night.