Blackhawks become prey as Predators make huge statement with sweep

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The Nashville Predators managed something they’ve never done before and something basically no one manages to do on Thursday night.

For the first time in franchise history, they managed a playoff sweep. And it’s not like they did it against the Brooklyn Brawler; the Predators knocked out the top seed in the Chicago Blackhawks, the first time the Jonathan ToewsPatrick Kane edition of that team has ever been knocked out in four straight.

MORE: Blackhawks feel empty after resounding defeat

And make no mistake about it. Shutting down those two superstars and the other dangerous Blackhawks scorers ranks as one of their many rare accomplishments. They locked the series down with a convincing 4-1 victory tonight.

Pekka Rinne unquestionably deserves a ton of the credit. He remarkably managed two straight shutouts to begin the series. He almost had a third, but Toews scored his first tally of the series to spoil that late in Game 4.

Even so, it’s resounding that the Blackhawks were only able to score in two different periods during the entire series. Nashville outscored Chicago 13-3 in a stunning series.

MORE: No doubt about it, the Predators are brimming with confidence

While Rinne rightfully grabs a ton of headlines, plenty of other Predators stood out.

  • Ryan Johansen sure looks like the first-line center that Nashville was hoping for when they made that pivotal trade involving Seth Jones.

  • The Predators really enjoyed an advantage they subtly exploited during the season: their deep, talented defense was great. P.K. Subban didn’t score a ton – at least by his standards – but apparently he titled the ice.
  • It’s fitting that Viktor Arvidsson scored the empty-netter to really seal things up. He sure seemed to make more of a difference than merely getting two goals. You could probably make a similar argument for Kevin Fiala, who caused havoc with his speed and scored that crucial Game 3 double-overtime-clincher.
  • And, hey, Peter Laviolette gets a little revenge for the Blackhawks beating his Flyers in a Stanley Cup Final many moons ago.

The Predators came into 2016-17 with a lot of hype, but considering their place as the final team in the West, they didn’t always live up to it. Some of that was bad luck, some was poor execution.

Now the Predators dropped the team of this generation, a squad that was able to optimize its strengths enough to win the Central Division and No. 1 spot in the West.

Sure … with another first-round exit, there’s the question that maybe the Blackhawks are running low on  gas (or at least might suffer from “feast or famine” runs).

Of course, the thrilled fans at Bridgestone Arena might counter that it’s merely all coming together for a team that’s much better than its season indicated.

Preds proving preseason hype was warranted

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They were a trendy pick to win the Stanley Cup.

And then the season started.

The Nashville Predators never really got rolling during their 82-game schedule. They’d have some good stretches, followed by some bad stretches. They ended up as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. Most predicted they’d lose to Chicago in the first round.

Of course, most were wrong. The Preds swept the Blackhawks, and now they’re up 1-0 on the Blues in the second round.

“We come in, we’re supposed to be this awesome, amazing team and we didn’t start so hot,” d-man Ryan Ellis said, per NHL.com. “We started to get better, and then some injuries crept into our locker room. We battled the whole year, losing guys at various times in the year and some younger guys stepped up. But overall, it’s adversity that makes you stronger. This was one of those years we faced a lot of adversity.”

A quick glance at Nashville’s roster and it’s not hard to understand the preseason hype. The Predators have a No. 1 center in Ryan Johansen, a tremendous goal-scorer in Filip Forsberg, and one of the more underrated wingers in the league in Viktor Arvidsson.

But the real jewel is their blue line. Roman Josi is the No. 1 defenseman, paired with puck-mover Ryan Ellis, a former 11th overall draft pick. On the second pair is a former Norris Trophy winner, P.K. Subban, who skates with the dependable Mattias Ekholm.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better top four than that. And to think, the Preds also had Seth Jones, until they traded him to Columbus for Johansen.

The wild card heading into the playoffs was Pekka Rinne, the 34-year-old goalie who was spectacularly inconsistent during the regular season. He had a .949 save percentage in November, followed by an .875 in December. It was .933 in January, down to .888 in February, then back up to .923 in March.

So far this postseason, it’s .962.

Tonight in St. Louis, the Preds can make it six straight wins in the playoffs. More importantly, they can take a 2-0 lead over the Blues back to Nashville.

“Throughout the year, I think we’re a little bit inconsistent,” winger Colin Wilson told reporters. “But when we played our game, we were always unstoppable. We have a lot of talent, great D, great goaltending, all-around strong team with a lot of depth.”

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Rangers won’t let Drury interview for Sabres GM gig

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As a former player and well-regarded young executive, there was a fit for Chris Drury in Buffalo’s front office.

Of course, there’s the exact same fit with the Rangers.

That’s why today’s news can’t come as a huge surprise. Per Sportsnet and TSN, New York has turned down Buffalo’s request to interview Drury for its vacant general manager gig.

Drury, 40, has spent the last two years climbing the Rangers’ executive depth chart. He was brought aboard in 2015 as the club’s director of player development and, a year later, was promoted to assistant GM under Jeff Gorton.

The Rangers aren’t the only ones enamored by Drury’s front office skills. Recently, USA Hockey tabbed him — along with Bill Guerin — as the braintrust responsible for building Team USA’s entry in the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.

As mentioned above, it was easy to see why the Sabres were interested. Drury played three seasons in Buffalo, served as team captain, and the club appears primed to make a splash with its next hire after dismissing Tim Murray.

Drury, of course, spent four seasons with the Rangers and also wore the “C.”

Should Erik Karlsson’s game-winning goal have counted?

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We’re only one game into the Sens-Rangers series, and we already have a little bit of controversy.

Ottawa won Game 1, 2-1, thanks to Erik Karlsson‘s game-winning goal from a seemingly impossible angle (seriously, he scored from the corner).

But should it have counted?

There’s no issue with the Karlsson shot going off Henrik Lundqvist‘s mask and in, but the Rangers felt that the referees missed an icing call moments before the goal happened.

Karlsson is standing near his own blue line when he sends a pass in Jean-Gabriel Pageau‘s direction. Did Pageau get a piece of it? It’s hard to tell from the angles we have at our disposal, but Alain Vigneault seemed to have had a good look at the play.

“We felt on their game-winning goal it should have been icing,” Vigneault said, per Sportsnet. “When we look at it, and look at the angles we get, I think it should have been icing. But at the end of the game you gotta play and you gotta do more than we did tonight to win.”

Challenging icing calls isn’t permitted, so when the officials decided that Pageau touched the puck, there’s nothing more the Rangers could do to reverse the call (except get the puck out of the zone when they had the chance).

 

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule for Friday, April 28

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Two games on the schedule tonight, as the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks look to avenge their losses to the Nashville Predators and Edmonton Oilers in Game 1.

Here’s what you need to know:

Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues (Preds lead 1-0)

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)

Check out the highlights from Nashville’s 4-3 win in Game 1.

Edmonton Oilers vs. Anaheim Ducks (Oilers lead 1-0)

Time: 10:30 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)

Check out the highlights from Edmonton’s 5-3 win in Game 1.