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Preds-Canucks Game 2 Analysis: Make Your Own Luck

Apr 23, 2024; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Nashville Predators forward Colton Sissons (10) celebrates his goal against the Vancouver Canucks during the second period in game two of the first round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

“It’s better to be lucky than good.”

It’s a pretty straightforward saying. While talent and skill go a long way, you often need a bit more than just that to make it happen. Every champion in any sport has some good bounces along the way, often while being very good (if not great)–it’s just the nature of things.

That is especially the case for hockey, a game with a hard, non-spherical thing made of rubber, which loves to carom off in unexpected directions, sliding around on a surface that degrades as it’s played upon. You want to be good, of course, but you need the Hockey Gods to shine their favor upon you as well. The trick is that you can’t just wait there for them to save you from the rising flood–you win by making your own good luck and good opportunities, then cashing in on them when the bounces go your way.

The Canucks Are Really Good

Yes, it’s an obvious statement, but occasionally the obvious needs to be stated. 109 regular season points; long stretches of both the first two games where the Predators didn’t really get a chance for their offense, including almost 20 minutes of ice time stretched over the second and third period in Game 2; winning faceoffs at nearly a 60% rate up until the very end of the game (where they dipped down to a measly 58%); the Canucks are really darn good. The Corsi chart for Game 2 is weighted hilariously against the Predators, who outperformed the expected margin of victory by five goals.

5 goals!

Per Natural Stat Trick, the Canucks were superior to the Colorado Avalanche in their 5-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets, and yet lost on home ice by three (one being an empty net goal, but still). While the Predators were solid in the first period and had an amazing run in the second–more on that in a minute–the Canucks played like, and were, the better team for the vast majority of this game.

And yet.

The Predators Had Luck In Their Corner

I’m spoiling three stars a bit here, but it’s really hard not to give one each to the left and right posts of the Nashville goals. On a minimum of two separate occasions, good solid iron is all that stopped the Canucks from scoring when either the defense, Saros, or both failed to do so. Favorable bounces took the puck just a little too far off a stick on an open back-door opportunity in the second period. A fortuitously timed snap of the stick kept J.T. Miller from blasting a puck straight through the net and into the stands. 

The Preds got a lot of lucky breaks in game two, which might be making some of you reach for the nearest wood to knock on or some salt to toss over your shoulder. The Predators have had plenty of experience being on the opposite end of that particular stick. The number of possible moments when the Cup Final against Pittsburgh could have turned in Nashville’s favor and the agonizing experience of having so many of them break against the Predators is…well, it still stings almost six years later. It’s better to be lucky than good, but luck may not always be on your side–and that’s where skill comes in.

Nashville Also Made Its Own Luck…

Discussion of superstition aside, what makes those lucky bounces into victories is when you can take advantage of them–and to do that, you have to be good. Good teams make their own luck in so many ways, with strong play giving them more of those favorable moments and limiting how often bad ones get a chance to turn the tide against them.

Case in point: at the apex of the Canucks’ stranglehold on the puck (around the 15-minute mark of the third period), the Canucks had 82 shot attempts to the Predators’ 33. The final tally was Canucks 84 to Predators 36, and 37 of those attempts by the Canucks came in the third period, where the Predators totaled just four attempts–again a sign of how the Canucks dominated possession.

But of those 84 attempts, the Canucks missed on 31. The Predators blocked 35, only one fewer than they attempted themselves all game, and almost twice as the Canucks had as shots on goal. That is astonishing–and also wince-worthy, given the number of bruises the Nashville medical team will be working on between now and Game 3 on Friday–but it’s not an accident.

Cassie Campbell-Pascall noted in the ESPN broadcast that those 66 attempts that never even reached Saros were a result of Nashville’s efforts, and she’s absolutely right. Putting themselves in the way of the puck, blocking either shot attempts or passes, disrupted the flow of the Canucks in critical moments. Despite having a crushing advantage in possession, the Canucks had only one goal to show for it–and it came off an extended stretch of attacking that caught the Predators out on a long shift.

If not for that, Saros has a clean sheet and we’re riding a 4-0 blowout back to Nashville for Game 3. Which brings me to what I’m really excited about…

And the Streak Lives

As previously noted, whatever hockey magic the Predators created for the last two months of the regular season was nothing short of a marvel. The heights of the streak have been documented in lovely fashion already, so I won’t try to rewrite what’s already been done. There have been questions about whether the Predators peaked ‘too soon’–as if one must budget goals through the season for fear of running out (on second thought and remembering past seasons, I will not make light of such a thing).

Starting with the power play off Juulsen’s second penalty of the night (2:36 into the second period) and running until just before the 14-minute mark, the hockey that made Nashville white-hot for six weeks was very much alive in Vancouver. 

In that stretch (bracketed above), Nashville looked like not just a good team, but a truly great one. Anytime a Canuck got even close to the puck, a white and yellow jersey was just about stapled onto him. Smothering defense fed a sustained and frenetic offensive attack, with one of the Canucks’ lonely ventures being broken up just inside the Nashville blue line and then becoming a rush that led to Colton Sissons’s first goal of this year’s playoffs.

It was the kind of hockey that makes you sit forward and watch as all the pieces move together, where notes won’t really do it justice. I mentioned the two teams trading haymakers and running up and down the ice in Game 1; but for these 12 minutes, luck wasn’t a factor–the Predators looked like they could run Vancouver off the ice. 

The question is not whether the Predators’ best can match the Canucks’–it’s whether or not they can have more minutes like that. Because if Nashville can keep stringing together play at that level, any team in the league should be saying a prayer or two in hopes that the hockey gods will spare them.

Odds and Ends

  • Cassie Campbell-Pascall, like AJ Mleczko on game one, was really great at providing useful information to the audience about the how and why certain things were working (or not working) throughout the game. I’d really like it if there were more opportunities on the broadcast for that. Nothing against Mike Monaco (who did ESPN’s play-by-play for both games one and two), but hearing her break down just what happened on that blown assignment or nifty goal is way more my speed.
  • With Panthers-Bolts running long and bumping the game from ESPN2 to ESPN News for the first period, I ended up missing the first nine minutes of the game, including Beauvillier’s goal. To prove that I, too, am not immune to the superstitions of the game, I am now considering missing the first nine minutes of each game in hopes it results in another early–and sustained–Predators lead.
  • With the series moving to Nashville (and TBS for the national broadcasts), I am crossing my fingers for some better on-screen information. An accurate and consistent shot tracker, maybe with shots attempted, please, that is all I’m asking for right now.

Three Stars

First Star goes to Juuse Saros. He’s not the only one who will be shouted out for his defensive efforts tonight, but I have to start here. Saros was rock solid in goal, with–as noted above–the only blemish on the night coming after a long defensive shift by the Predators and heavy sustained pressure by the Canucks. That he held the line from that goal onto the end of the game while facing over 40 shots attempted in that timespan is proof of why he should be in the Vezina conversation every year.

Second Star goes to the collective Predators defensive efforts. Saros was amazing, but he didn’t do things single-handedly. As noted above, the Predators’ overall defensive efforts took everything the Canucks could throw at them for almost the entire game and only gave up one goal. There will be a lot of puck-shaped bruises being tended with ice bags on the flight back to Nashville, and every single one is a testament to how hard this team works to put itself in positions to succeed. Special mention to Ryan McDonagh for sticking to J.T. Miller like a porcupine with a bad attitude.

Third Star goes to the Hockey Gods. They work in mysterious ways and I dare not seek to understand their motives and plans. For whatever reason, they aligned with Nashville tonight. I can only hope that Nashville has its best on display for the home crowd at Bridgestone on Friday and that the Hockey Gods smile upon us once more. Go forth in peace and with whatever bit of luck you can grab. See you on Friday.

Talking Points