Kevin Fiala

‘Our guys know the big picture’: Preds aren’t satisfied with spot in Stanley Cup Final

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Nashville Predators, the final team into the NHL playoffs, are headed to the first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.

Coach Peter Laviolette insists they won’t just be happy to be there either.

“Our guys know the big picture,” Laviolette said. “They understand what it is that we’re trying to do here. And when that time comes, we’ll be ready.”

Colton Sissons scored a hat trick with his third goal the game-winner with 6:00 left, and goalie Pekka Rinne made 38 saves as the Predators beat the Anaheim Ducks 6-3 on Monday night in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals.

Now the team no one outside of Nashville expected to be here is waiting to face either defending champion Pittsburgh or Ottawa for the Stanley Cup. Game 1 is Monday.

No matter what happens next, the Predators already have turned in a thrilling run this postseason as just the third franchise seeded last in its conference to reach the Final since the NHL went to the current conference-based playoff format in 1994. The Edmonton Oilers lost to Laviolette’s Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, while the Kings beat New Jersey in six in 2012.

They also are the eighth team in the past 15 seasons to reach the Stanley Cup Final after finishing the regular season outside the top 10 in the final standings.

Nashville’s magical run started by sweeping the West’s No. 1 seed in Chicago. The Predators downed St. Louis in six to reach their first conference finals, and now they’ve knocked off the Pacific Division champ in Anaheim, which lost for the second time in three years in the Western finals.

Goaltender Pekka Rinne, the Predators’ longest tenured-player at 34, called the victory an amazing feeling.

“It’s a funny thing though,” Rinne said. “Everything that is happening around us, you still feel hungry and now we have a chance to play for the Cup. It’s a pretty amazing feeling and you’re working for that for a long, long time. I feel like the last number of years, we’ve been going in that direction, building this team and having more depth.”

That depth has paid off, particularly the last two games after losing top center Ryan Johansen after Game 4 to emergency surgery on his left thigh. Captain Mike Fisher, the only player on the roster who has played in the Stanley Cup Final with Ottawa in 2007, also missed those two games with an upper-body injury.

Forward Kevin Fiala broke his left leg in the second round.

Laviolette simply tapped Nashville’s pipeline and has tied the NHL’s all-time mark using 18 forwards this postseason. Sissons is the latest to respond. The 23-year-old center was scoreless in the 2016 playoffs and had 10 points in 58 games during the regular season. Now he has 10 points this postseason.

“I don’t think I even dreamt of this moment, scoring a hat trick in the Western Conference clinching game, but I can’t speak enough for just our whole group,” Sissons said. “We’ve been through some challenges together and we stuck together no matter what, just always believed and here we are.”

Now Laviolette is the first coach since 1994 and the fourth overall to take three different teams to the Stanley Cup Final , joining Scotty Bowman, Dick Irvin and Mike Keenan.

“Probably means that I got fired a lot,” Laviolette said with a chuckle. “I’m fortunate to be here working and fortunate (general manager) David Poile gave me a job. And when you do that, you’re not thinking about things like that, you’re just thinking about coming to work.”

Now Music City stands ready to show the NHL how to chase hockey’s ultimate trophy in star-studded fashion.

The Predators have had a different national anthem singer for each playoff game ranging from Carrie Underwood and Luke Bryan to Trisha Yearwood. The singer’s identity is a well-guarded secret. NFL stars like Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, PGA golfer Brandt Snedeker and former Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George have revved up crowds for a raucous party each game.

Fans filled the plaza outside the arena and the park across the street during the game before pouring onto the street lined with honky-tonks to celebrate. Forward James Neal said the Predators’ fans are special and now everyone in the hockey world is getting to see them.

“It’s hard to describe and it’s an amazing feeling to win this, and we’re not done,” Neal said.

Peter Laviolette has ‘brought the best’ out of the Preds

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Peter Laviolette is not one to waste precious time reflecting on how he feels about taking his third different NHL team to the conference finals.

The coach is too busy trying to help the Nashville Predators bring the Stanley Cup championship to Music City.

“We’re excited to get going and start,” he said. “Guys have worked hard to get to this point and just want to keep working hard. Like I said, I think the most important thing is just keep our head down and keep doing the work.”

It’s tough to argue with Laviolette’s approach considering his success.

Now 52, Laviolette is just the third coach since the NHL split its playoffs between conferences in 1994 to take three different teams this far, joining Ken Hitchcock (Dallas, Philadelphia and St. Louis) and Darryl Sutter (Chicago, Calgary and Los Angeles). If the Predators get past Anaheim in the Western Conference finals , which start Friday night, he would be the first in that span to take three different teams to the Stanley Cup Final.

Laviolette won the 2006 Stanley Cup with Carolina and led Philadelphia to the finals in 2010. Earlier this season, Laviolette became just the second U.S.-born coach to win 500 NHL games and the 28th overall to coach 1,000 games. His playoff record is 60-52, including 17-13 in three seasons in Nashville.

Paul Holmgren, now the Flyers’ president, hired Laviolette to take over in Philadelphia in 2009 and watched the coach win the Eastern Conference title in his first season. Holmgren said Laviolette is so positive and such a strong motivator that the coach made him confident the Flyers would win every game. Laviolette’s offensive drills also impressed him.

“Peter brings out offensive confidence to his players …, and I think it’s obvious in all the stops he’s been,” Holmgren said. “His teams, not only do they play well defensively, but they get in the offensive zone they have a concept, an idea of how to get the puck in the back of the net.”

The offensive touch is exactly why general manager David Poile hired Laviolette three years ago . The Predators since have added Filip Forsberg, James Neal, Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson and Kevin Fiala to give the coach quality offensive talent.

“We’ve walked pretty much hand-in-hand in terms of what we’re doing to accommodate players to the way he wanted to coach,” Poile said.

How Laviolette asks players to play isn’t easy, demanding that they know the system so well that they don’t have to think on the ice. This is the third season for defenseman Mattias Ekholm, and he said he knows exactly how to react in any given situation with a confidence that flows through the rest of the team.

“We know that we can have a really good chance of winning games,” Ekholm said.

Forward Vernon Fiddler, 37, is back with the Predators after starting his NHL career in Nashville in 2002-03. He credits Laviolette with gauging just what the locker room needs.

“You can just tell he’s been through this before,” Fiddler said. “There’s never any second-guessing. It’s obvious this is the way it’s going to be and that’s how it is. There’s no gray area. It’s one way or no way. I think that’s what’s really driving our team.”

Laviolette certainly has the ability to tap the right player at the right time. The first game he played Fiddler was in the second round against St. Louis, and Fiddler came through with the game-winning goal . Eight different Predators have scored game-winning goals this postseason.

What Laviolette hates is telling someone he can’t play. But he does it because that’s his job.

“Those are different things, but things that have to be done,” Laviolette said.

It helps that Laviolette is a former player himself, though his NHL career as a defenseman lasted only 12 games with the New York Rangers during the 1988-89 season. A native of Franklin, Massachusetts, Laviolette played for the United States in the 1988 and 1994 Olympics with 594 career games in the minor leagues.

“He’s an honest guy,” Predators captain Mike Fisher said. “He’ll tell it like it is. He’s done a great job of communicating to us and what he wants and how we need to be successful. Yeah, he doesn’t pull any punches, for sure, and that’s a good thing. Guys know what you’re getting. I think he’s really brought the best out of a lot of people.”

 

Preds announce Fiala done for year with fractured femur

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Most knew that, based on the visuals and stretchering off, the injury Kevin Fiala suffered during Nashville’s series-opening win over St. Louis last night was pretty bad.

Today, the Preds confirmed it.

Fiala suffered a fractured left femur on the play, one that will sideline him for the remainder of the year. The club went onto explain that the 20-year-old underwent successful surgery last night, and would soon be returned to Nashville.

It’s an incredibly unfortunate end to what was a promising campaign.

The 11th overall pick in 2014, Fiala scored 11 goals in 54 games for the Preds this year, and famously scored the OT winner in Game 3 of the opening round against Chicago.

PHT Morning Skate: The top 5 second-round matchups since 1980

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–Yesterday was the start of second-round action in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, so Sean McIndoe breaks down his top five second-round matchups since 1980. The most recent series on the list was the clash between the Blackhawks and Canucks in 2010, while the oldest series on the list 1988 battle between the Oilers and Flames. (The Hockey News)

–Rod Stewart was incredibly proud of his own, Liam, when he scored his first international goal for Great Britain during the Division 1 Group B World Hockey Championship. Stewart took to instagram to show just how thrilled he was about his son’s accomplishment. (Sportsnet)

–The Nashville Predators took down the St. Louis Blues, 4-3, in Game 1 of their second-round series thanks to a phenomenal effort from P.K. Subban. You can watch the highlights from Game 1 by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Speaking of Subban, he sat down with NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire after last night’s win. Subban talked about overcoming St. Louis’ strong third-period push, the scary injury to Kevin Fiala and what it means to be a leader on a championship team. But on a lighter note, Subban also complimented McGuire on “getting better looking every day”. (NBC Sports)

Jarome Iginla will become an unrestricted free agent this summer. The 39-year-old still searching for his first Stanley Cup, which could be a big factor in his potential decision to hold off retirement. But here’s an interesting bit of information. Iginla, who suited up for the Bruins a couple of years ago, has reportedly purchased a $4.5 million home in the Boston area. Could he be headed back there? (WEEI.com)

–We’ve heard this story before, but it sounds like Ilya Kovalchuk is interested in coming back to the NHL. If he’s serious about returning to North America, there will be no shortage of suitors vying for his services. The Hockey News looks at some perfect landing spots for the the 34-year-old sniper. (The Hockey News)

–Unfortunately, Pierre LeBrun was let go by ESPN on Wednesday, but one of his final stories was a really good one. LeBrun mentions the possibility of some fireworks going off during the off-season thanks to the expansion draft and a lack of increase in the salary cap. LeBrun writes: “So much of it comes back to what decisions the Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild make leading up to the expansion draft. The Ducks and Wild can’t protect all of their depth on defense, but there’s no way they’re just going to let the new Vegas Knights take a good blueliner for free in the expansion draft, either. I think they will either made a side deal with Vegas or simply trade whichever defenseman they can’t protect in the draft to another NHL team.” (ESPN)

Predators survive Blues’ big late push to win Game 1

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The Nashville Predators’ 4-3 Game 1 win against the St. Louis Blues makes it difficult to use “perfect.”

You could get away with using that word, mind you, as the Predators followed up their surprising sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks by going up 1-0 against the Blues in St. Louis. Still, the ride was so bumpy in the third period, it’s probably wiser to focus on the fact that Nashville is unbeaten.

Because, yikes, that third period was a roller coaster for Nashville.

via Natural Stat Trick

P.K. Subban scored a goal and two assists in the first 40 minutes to help the Predators bring a 3-1 lead into the final frame. The Blues absolutely dominated play in the third, however, briefly tying the game as they put immense pressure on Pekka Rinne & Co.

Ultimately, the Predators received a game-winner from an unlikely source in Vernon Fiddler, gaining a 1-0 series edge.

Even so, few will talk about “mystique” after that shaky finish.

For one thing, both Rinne and Jake Allen allowed goals that they’d like to forget. Also, both squads experienced lopsided periods; Nashville dominated shots in the second (15-8) while the Blues almost doubled-up the Preds in the third (11-6).

Nashville also seems likely to play without rising rookie Kevin Fiala, who was hospitalized after an absolutely horrifying crash into the boards.

It was a weird and often wild – sometimes nasty – contest, with the Predators ultimately coming out on top. There’s plenty of intrigue heading into Game 2, which airs on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET on Friday. (You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App; here’s the livestream link.)