The Nashville Predators had practice on Wednesday, packed up, and headed to Vancouver with nothing to lose as they make their first trip to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs tonight at 8 p.m. at Rogers Arena.
The Predators have been off since Sunday’s Game 6 series clinching win over Anaheim. Vancouver has been playing hard every other night until they finally got past their demon, the Chicago Blackhawks, with a Game 7 win on Tuesday.
The President Trophy winning Canucks are being held to high expectations by their fans and anything less than the Stanley Cup will be considered a failure for the star-studded team.
The Predators players are holding themselves to a higher standard than their fans who are just thrilled to be out of the first round. From day one of camp, the Preds have felt that they had a chance for the Cup and that has been their ultimate goal.
After Sunday’s clincher, the fans went crazy and spilled out into taverns and honky tonks of Lower Broad while the players enjoyed their moment on the ice and then headed to the dressing room where it was business as usual as they were already looking forward to another game.
Patric Hornqvist saw no problem in transitioning to a new series, “This series is over and were going to keep focus. We’re going to be off hockey for a couple of days and then go right after it again and start flying and win the next series.”
Ex-Canuck Shane O’Brien will be a key player in the coming series. He will need to play with grit and provide sandpaper while staying out of the penalty box, something he didn’t do in the Ducks series until Game 6.
O’Brien said Barry Trotz had many discussions during the prior series. “I was taking too many penalties and hurting the club,” he said. “Coach Trotz has been great with me. He just talks to you man to man. I just had to take a little step back and not play quite as physical.”
On playing Vancouver O’Brien said, “That will be very interesting. We’re in for a good challenge and I’ll definitely have to control my emotions and just play hockey.”
O’Brien was not satisfied with just the first round series win, “From day one, we wanted to get past the first round and we accomplished that. We haven’t accomplished what we wanted to. We have our eye on one goal. We’ve got a lot of hard work ahead of us.”
“There are steps to the season. Obviously, we had to get in the playoffs. Now we won the first round, so the goal is to win the second round and it doesn’t get any easier. It gets harder as you go on. The guys who have been there know that and the guys who haven’t are going to find out fast.”
Going further O’Brien explained, “Our young guys have been so good and the guys who have been here for a while want it so bad. We’re going to get a taste of the second round and we are excited.”
When the puck drops tonight, there will be a host of NHL Award nominees and a few more that are yet to be nominated. In goal will be two Vezina finalist in Pekka Rinne and Roberto Luongo. The Predators will also have Norris Trophy nominee Shea Weber on the ice and potential GM winner, David Poile in the press box. Barry Trotz could get a Jack Adams call on Friday.
Vancouver will have Selke nominee Ryan Kesler who may also be a Hart finalist as well as the Sedin twins who could also make the Hart top three when an announcement is made later today. Daniel Sedin already has the Art Ross Trophy wrapped up and Luongo and Cory Schneider have the Jennings Trophy locked down from their regular season success in goal.
The game in Vancouver is also a homecoming of sorts for Shea Weber, Cody Franson, and Jerred Smithson who hail from the Vancouver area. Jon Blum also played his junior career with the Vancouver Giants, where he was a teammate with Franson.
In the first round the Canucks were led in scoring by Daniel Sedin (5g, 2a), Alexandre Burrows (3g, 3a), and Henrik Sedin (0g, 5a). The Predators were led by Mike Fisher (3g, 3a), Shea Weber (3g, 2a), Joel Ward (3g, 2a), and Jordin Tootoo (1g, 4a).
Neither Rinne (4-2-0, 3.39, .876) or Luongo (4-3-0, 2.97, .903) had opening series comparable to their regular season stats but in the post-season the only real statistic that counts is the win column and both Rinne and Luongo have four apiece. Much better play is expected from both in this series which should be more like a chess match than the street brawl that both opening series turned out to be.
The Predators will remain in Vancouver after the opening contest for Game 2 which will be this weekend.