For Nashville Predators, why does it always take desperation to bring out their best? | Estes

Gentry Estes
Nashville Tennessean

Don't let the good vibes fool you. This was no party off Broadway.

Not for the first four hours, at least.

How tortuous they were, too. Nashville’s first Stanley Cup playoff game in two years was fun for the casual observer, but there were few of those at Bridgestone Arena on Friday night. As Game 3 reached its second overtime, die-hards wearing gold and holding their breath had to grasp what the next goal would mean if the Carolina Hurricanes scored it.

The series, surely. The Nashville Predators’ season. That’d have been all she wrote, probably leading to a disappointing sweep, probably reigniting talk of a roster rebuild that was delayed by this improbable run to the playoffs, but not entirely extinguished.

The Preds were staring down all of it. Backs against the wall, circle the wagons, no margin for error.

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And wouldn’t you know, the Hurricanes didn’t score that goal. The Preds did. Matt Duchene, of all players, did. And the shape of a playoff series – maybe even the direction of a franchise – changed as a result of one special moment and a 5-4 victory the Preds simply had to have.

Memorable as Game 3 will be, it wasn’t all that extraordinary in the course of this weird season. Just because we’ve been watching the Preds do this for months, coming through when there’s no other choice.

I don’t know why it takes desperation to bring out the best in this team, but it does.

That’s the magic potion for a group that needs some.

All guts and two goalies, these Preds. And yet they have habitually thrived in pressure-packed moments. Even in the dark days earlier in the season, their best hockey would come while trailing games in the third period. Then came the late-season climb up the standings that no one could have expected.

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It's admirable if you didn’t have to wonder why it seems to take reaching peril for this team to finally reach its potential. We don't always see the Preds we witnessed Friday, but this version showed they were capable of outplaying and beating one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup.

Didn't you just know it'd happen, though, given a 2-0 deficit in the series?

John Hynes sure did. The coach called it after Friday’s morning skate at the arena.

“I believe that our team is going to play really well tonight,” he said. “We need these guys to step up and play well.”

Then look at what happened — and who did it. Duchene’s winning goal came from Roman Josi’s beautiful feed across the ice. Ryan Johansen scored what could have been the winner in the third period, putting the Preds up 4-3. Ryan Ellis scored the game’s first goal, which was important since the Preds had gone the previous four periods without one.

All these highly paid players who hadn’t been doing enough in the series, each of them did enough this time. They played all night as if someone had discovered the turbo button on a video-game controller.

How did Hynes know?

“When you get into the playoffs the way that we’ve gotten into the playoffs,” he said, “you have a track record to respond. … You could see that they were ready to go. It was the very same mentality, feeling around the room, type of pregame skate that we had in some other games that we knew we had to dig in and find a way to win.”

A huge result for the Preds was a tough blow for the Canes, their first in these playoffs. Many a playoff series has turned on less than an emotional night like this.

That said, it was just barely enough.

Even with so many contributions from key players, even with Juuse Saros matching a franchise record with 52 saves, even with more than 12,000 howling fans in the Preds’ corner, it still took double overtime and days off lifespans and to eke out one game.

That’s how good the Canes are.

The Preds know they can beat them when their season is at stake, because they’ve done it twice in 13 days.

A tougher trick? Doing it when their season isn’t on the line. 

Reach Gentry Estes at and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.