Music City to Clutch City: Predators tie it late, win in overtime to take 3-2 series lead

The NHL playoffs are a lesson in how to never count a team out of a game and the Nashville Predators were more than happy to teach that lesson to Anaheim tonight beating the Ducks 4-3 in overtime to take a 3-2 series lead.

Heading into the final minute of play, the Predators trailed the Ducks 3-2 thanks to two goals from Jason Blake and an incredible single effort from Bobby Ryan on his third period goal. With a faceoff in the Anaheim zone with under a minute to play, the Predators won the draw back to captain Shea Weber who let a shot rip through a crowd and past Ray Emery (33 saves) to tie the game with 36 seconds left in the third period.

Weber’s third goal of the playoffs gave the Predators new life and in overtime they’d take control of it as Jerred Smithson would score just 1:57 into the extra session thanks to a beauty of a feed from Jordin Tootoo to end the game and put the Predators on the brink of winning their first playoff round in franchise history. The overtime win was also the Predators first in team history helping to set the stage for a raucous Game 6 in Nashville as the Predators look to wrap things up.

Teams battling back to stay strong in the face of adversity is nothing new. Teams with big leads in games or series have been coming out on the short end of things in a disturbing number. For Nashville to get tough and bear down at the end of regulation to keep pressuring Anaheim and forcing them to dump the puck for icing towards the end of the game helping to set up the faceoff that led to the game-tying goal. The pressure kept up in overtime and it paid off in Smithson’s game winner.

That kind of high intensity paired up with questionable Ducks goaltending has produced three wins so far in the series. Expect more of the same on Sunday in Nashville. While Pekka Rinne wasn’t looking like the Vezina Trophy finalist again tonight (23 saves), the rest of the team rallied around him tonight to make sure he didn’t end up on the wrong end of things.

Anaheim’s in a hole now and while you can’t count them out by any means, there are obvious holes in their game that the Predators are pushing to expose. They’re crashing Ray Emery’s net and making the Ducks’ defense look bad. While the Ducks superstar players are alternately being supermen and struggling to get on the sheet, they need to step up in a big way if they’re going to prevent the Predators from ending the series on Sunday. There’s a reason why Corey Perry is being talked about as a potential MVP in the league and he’ll need to show why in Game 6 if there’s going to be a Game 7.

Here are the highlights from tonight’s game.

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Did Brandon Saad want out of Columbus?

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On an insanely busy and blockbuster-filled Friday morning, it was hard to sit back and fully analyze all the trades going down. Such is the world of instant reaction.

But in the aftermath, a few pressing questions were asked. One in particular following the Brandon Saad-for-Artemi Panarin deal orchestrated by Chicago GM Stan Bowman and Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen.

It was asked of Kekalainen — did Saad like being a Blue Jacket?

A transcript from video posted by the Dispatch’s Tom Reed:

Q: Saad put up terrific numbers, really strong numbers, for two seasons here. But there always seemed to be a feeling he wasn’t quite totally comfortable here. Did you sense that?

Kekalainen: I can’t speak for his behalf. You’ll have to ask him. He was a good soldier for us, a good professional, and he handled himself well in that regard.

Kekalainen went on to add the Jackets weren’t looking to trade Saad, and agreed the 24-year-old put up solid numbers — especially at 5-on-5.

But there was friction during his stint in Columbus.

In February of 2016, head coach John Tortorella acknowledged he “screwed up” with Saad when he first took over behind the bench.

“I came here, I screwed up with him and I think I held him back in where he wasn’t killing penalties,” he lamented. “You know what he is as a player – two-time Stanley Cup-winner – but I still think he has a lot to learn about the game, and I lost him.

“When he spends two minutes on the bench and he doesn’t kill a penalty, and I don’t come back with him another shift after that because I’m trying to get my lines back together, there he is sitting on the bench for probably three minutes. It may not seem like a lot, but for a player that’s an eternity.”

Tortorella owned up to his mistake, which might’ve seemingly put the issue to bed.

But one year later, he and Saad were clashing again.

During Game 1 of this year’s playoff series against Pittsburgh, Tortorella benched Saad in the third period after giving the puck away.

More, from the Dispatch:

The local Pittsburgh telecast showed coach John Tortorella screaming at Saad after a turnover. The team’s third-leading scorer sat for the final 14:17 with his team trailing by three goals.

“I’m not quite sure — heat of the moment,” Saad said when asked whether the turnover or other factors contributed to his benching and Tortorella’s eruption. “You will have to ask him about that. For me, it’s when I do get out there, do my best and try to help the team win.”

The overriding issue at play seemed to be Saad’s ceiling. The price to acquire him — and sign him — suggested Columbus saw him as an elite, top-line player (for example, Torts said he expected Saad to lead the way against Pittsburgh in the playoffs.)

But while the numbers and production were there, Saad might’ve been more comfortable in the role he had in Chicago, a guy that could thrive in a more secondary role while most of the focus was on Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

And now, he’ll get that chance.

Again.

Wild trades center Jordan Schroeder to Blue Jackets

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired center Jordan Schroeder in a trade with the Minnesota Wild.

In exchange for the 26-year-old Schroeder, the Wild on Friday got minor-league center Dante Salituro.

Schroeder played in 37 games for the Wild last season, recording six goals and seven assists. He has 17 goals and 23 assists in 144 career NHL games with the Wild and Vancouver Canucks since making his NHL debut in 2012-13.

It was the second trade of the day announced by the Blue Jackets. They also got forward Artemi Panarin, minor-league forward Tyler Motte, a draft pick for forward Brandon Saad, minor-league goaltender Anton Forsberg and a 2018 draft pick.

Contract stability and cost certainty key to Blackhawks’ overhaul

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Stan Bowman promised change this offseason and he delivered a lot of it on Friday when he completed two blockbuster trades to significantly alter the makeup of his core.

After sending Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes for defensemen Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin, the Blackhawks quickly followed that up by re-acquiring Brandon Saad from the Columbus Blue Jackets in a deal centered around Artemi Panarin.

In the short-term the trades don’t do much to help the Blackhawks’ salary cap situation. Saad and Panarin have matching $6 million cap hits for this season, while Murphy offers them just a couple hundred thousand in cap savings in the Hjalmarsson deal.

But what the trades do in the long-term is give the Blackhawks a little bit of cost certainty when it comes to their salary cap structure.

Scott Powers at The Athletic quotes a Blackhawks source as saying “We believe this helps us because of contract stability. Saad has four years remaining on his deal and Murphy has five years.”

That is the key here.

Hjalmarsson, still a tremendous defensive defenseman, is set to be an unrestricted free agent after next season. Panarin, one of the NHL’s most prolific point producers since entering the league, will join him.

It is almost a given that if Panarin continues on the same trajectory he has been on during his first two years in the league (pretty much a top-10 scorer) he is going to cost significantly more than the $6 million cap hit he and Saad both account for this season. Finding a way to keep him with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford still on the books would have been incredibly difficult, if not completely impossible. Something like this was almost certain to happen at some point anyway.

Along with the cost certainty and “contract stability” that comes with the changes, they are also getting a little younger, something the Blackhawks could also use.

Murphy is seven years younger than Hjalmarsson and gives them another right-handed shot on their blue line. Saad, along with being locked in to a long-term contract, is a year younger than Panarin.

All of this makes sense for the Blackhawks from a long-term contract outlook, and in a capped league teams can never lose sight of the long-term finances.

But the most important question at the end of the day, of course, is are they better? Hjalmarsson is still an excellent player but he is also going to be 30 years old this season and is going to eventually reach a point where his game declines. That time will be sooner rather than later. Murphy, in theory, should still have his best days ahead of him and was — by a pretty wide margin — Arizona’s best defenseman when it came to suppressing shots and shutting down opposing players this past season.

Saad is an excellent two-way player and obviously has a lengthy history of production with the Blackhawks. But again, Panarin has been one of the 10 most productive players in the NHL the past two seasons. Is Saad’s all-around play so much better that it makes up for the difference in offense?

The one thing that could help make up for that is if prized prospect Alex Debrincat makes the jump to the NHL and is as good as advertised.

Even after all of these moves on Friday the Blackhawks still probably have more work to do given their salary cap situation. But these two moves at least gave them some long-term certainty when it comes to their core.

Related:

Chicago Fire: Blackhawks re-acquire Saad

Blackhawks send Hjalmarsson to Arizona

Coyotes expect Stepan to be ‘true number-one center’

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Derek Stepan is 27 years old and has played over 500 games in the NHL.

Though he has never registered more than 57 points in a single season, the Arizona Coyotes believe he’s the big piece they’ve been looking for.

“We are thrilled to acquire Derek,” said GM John Chayka after Friday’s trade with the Rangers. “Our organization has been searching for a true number-one center for over a decade and we are confident that he can be that for us.”

Chayka is absolutely right that the Coyotes haven’t had great centers for a while now. Antoine Vermette and Martin Hanzal were fine players for them, but Jeremy Roenick was their last elite center, and he’s been gone since 2001.

But is it fair to expect Stepan to be a true number one?

Well, the Rangers were reportedly concerned his game was on the decline. And at 27, his prime years are probably behind him.

Also consider the bar for number-one centers in the NHL. It’s Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar, Nicklas Backstrom, and a few others who rate higher than Stepan.

One could even make the argument that the Rangers never won the Stanley Cup with Stepan because they never had an elite number-one center while he was there. (No disrespect to Brad Richards, but his game was on the decline when he signed in New York.)

So, no, it’s not fair to expect Stepan to be a true number-one center, even if he’s deployed like one next season.

The real hope for a number-one center in Arizona is with Christian Dvorak, Dylan Strome, and Clayton Keller.

In the meantime, Stepan will have to do.