Finally! After 18 NHL seasons, the Nashville Predators are headed to the Conference Finals and four wins stand between them and the Stanley Cup Final! Let’s see how they finished off the Blues on Sunday.

-It was a pristine day in Nashville on Sunday afternoon so the place was buzzing as people were filing into Bridgestone Arena thanks to some cold ones at local watering holes. After Lady Antebellum crushed our fine country’s anthem, Kevin Fiala waved the towel and fired up the crowd. It got a little dusty in the arena.

The Good

-As we will get into under “The Bad”, the Predators got off to about a bad a start as possible by only generating five shots in the 1st period, looking generally dysfunctional, and falling behind 1-0. A lot of people said they wanted Peter Laviolette to rip into the team at the 1st intermission. I don’t think he needed to do that. I think they just needed to settle down, simplify their game, and play within their system. Whether Lavy peeled paint off the walls or he just calmed the troops down, it worked. Just 35 seconds into the 2nd period Nashville tied it on one of the prettiest plays of the postseason. As Ryan Johansen was bringing the puck up the boards in the offensive zone, he left it for a pinching Mattias Ekholm. The South Tower drew a couple defensemen toward him before sliding a perfect pass all the way across ice to the most handsome man in all of Smashville, Roman Josi. Josi didn’t waste anytime getting off a one-timer and tying the game.

-With the game tied at 1 heading into the 3rd period, there was no amount of alcohol on Broadway that could quell my nerves. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait too long to exhale a little. And by exhale a little, I mean scream loudly. In the 1st period, the Jofa Line was notably not good. They seemed out of sync (like the rest of the team), and the Blues defense pushed them around. However, you can’t keep Arvidsson and Co. down for long. Forsberg chipped a good breakout pass to Arvy, who carried the puck into the St. Louis zone on an odd man rush with Johansen. Arvidsson threw on the breaks and sent a saucy pass to Joey Mullets who used his silky smooth hands to go forehand to backhand on Jake Allen and give the Preds a 3rd period lead.

-The final nail in the coffin for St. Louis was an empty net goal by just flat out being faster than Jay Bouwmeester. He won the race on the Josi clearing attempt and slid it into the empty 6×4 frame to put the game in the freezer.

-Once they put the 1st period behind them, the Nashville Predators settled down and played smart hockey. It was not fancy. They weren’t able to put many pucks on net, but they did not make many mistakes. They took care of the puck and defended well.

hockeyviz.com

-That’s already a pretty clean house, but if I was able to just show shots in the 2nd and 3rd period it would look even whiter than that. The only criticism might be that Tarasenko’s name come up more than I’d like, but all in all they kept St. Louis from getting high danger chances in the last 40 minutes of Sunday’s game. The Predators’ defense was winning puck battles down low and trying to get in the way of everything the Blues threw at Rinne. Subban led the team with three shots blocked.

-Pekka Rinne, ladies and gentlemen. He allowed just one goal on 24 shots against Sunday afternoon. He kept the team in the game after they fell behind 1-0 in the 1st period. Laviolette even said so himself. Not long after St. Louis opened the scoring, he made a flashy glove save on Colton Parayko when the sequoia on skates let one fly from the half board. In the 2nd period with the game tied, Vladdy Tarasenko got loose in the slot (not ideal!) and took a whack at a rebound attempt. Pekka Rinne was in perfect position to shut it down though. As a matter of fact, Tarasenko had five shots on goal (not ideal!) and no goals on Sunday. Yes, a few of those were from the outside but he is dangerous from anywhere and Pekka slammed the door all afternoon. Updated playoff stats for Pekka Rinne: 1.37 GAA and .951 Save%. Pretty good for a guy that should’ve been backup to Saros according to Preds Facebook.

The Bad

-The 1st period of Game 6 was probably the worst period Nashville has played so far in this playoff run. That got started when Austin Watson attempted an errant breakout pass that went straight to the Blues. Tarasenko ended up with possession and threw the puck at the net. It hit Paul Statsny in the midsection and redirected past Pekka Rinne to give St. Louis the early lead.

-The rest of the period would be a disaster. P.K. Subban would make a couple bad decisions with the puck on his stick, the Jofa Line looked out of sync, and the Blues put it on the Predators. What you see below was the result.

-This is a heat map. In the case of the Predators, it is a cold map. The Blues’ shot locations, which are shown in Blue came from right around Rinne and the circles in the 1st. Nashville’s (the five they had) came from way outside. The Blues manhandled the Preds in the opening period, which was pretty disconcerting considering how amped up that arena was. It did not inspire a whole lot of confidence following a lackluster Game 5.

-The Predators played better from there on out, but it was still a real struggle for them to get high danger scoring chances. The Blues large defensemen set up shop in the slot and did not move. They kept the Preds to the outside and got in the way of every shot and pass that came through the slot.

hockeyviz.com

-All five of those close shots were either on breakaways, odd man rushes, or an empty net shot. This is easily the most concerning aspect of Game 6. Nashville really struggled to maintain possession in the offensive zone for extended periods of time which means it was near impossible for them to create meaningful scoring chances down low. Now, I don’t think the Ducks or Oilers have the large hulking monsters on defense that St. Louis has, but the Blues may have given them a blueprint (lmao) to frustrate Nashville’s offense. I’d have to think Laviolette and his staff will spend plenty of time trying to get things straightened out offensively.

-Allen only saw 17 shots, but he made some massive stops in the 3rd. It’s certainly worth noting that he denied the Predators on not one, not two, but three breakaways late in the game that would’ve sealed the deal. Here are a couple of those.

-This was a bad day for Nashville’s power play. In a close game, that unit had a four chances to break through but couldn’t capitalize on any of them. Not only could they not finish, they could’ve hardly get the puck into the zone most of the time. I think I counted two real chances on the power play in the eight minutes they had the man advantage. Their entries were an issue and they tried to get a little too fancy. Normally, I’m not the turd yelling at professional hockey players to shoot the puck. However, when Viktor Arvidsson has the puck just a few feet outside the crease, I want the 31 goal scorer to let it rip. Much like the offense at even strength, the power play should be an area of focus heading into the Conference Finals.

The Ugly

-BREAKING: Predators have been so dominant this postseason that the Ducks and Oilers both concede the Conference Finals to Nashville.

-I hope whatever graphics guy/gal did this is a psychic.

Final: 3-1 Predators (NSH wins series 4-2)

Wowowowow. When Donald Trump said there would be a lot more winning with him as President, I did NOT expect this. That’s why he’s the Don I suppose. Was this series win as dominant as the opening round? No, clearly. Were the Predators finally going to face resistance and lose a couple of games? Duh, it’s the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They responded with a win after each loss and I really think they were the better team for most of this series. After the first game, this series was exactly  what we thought it’d be: tight checking and low scoring. The most encouraging thing about this series win is that the Preds have shown they can win playing two totally different styles of hockey. As you know Smashville, runs like this don’t come around often. Follow the lead of your favorite team. Have fun with it. To uncharted territory we go.

Hey Joey Mullets, how does it feel to be in the Western Conference for the first time in franchise history?!

-Also, this:

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