In the biggest moment of the biggest game in franchise history, there was Ryan Johansen barreling down the ice. The 6'3 Predators center taking a pass and beating Jake Allen for what proved to be the clinching goal of the team's first ever second round series win.
The Predators are headed to the Western Conference Final of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time ever. It's a place they don't get to without Johansen.
The 24-year-old top line center was acquired from Columbus shortly before the trade deadline a year ago in exchange for defenseman Seth Jones. The decision to move a productive, young prospect like Jones was heavily scrutinized, but Johansen brought a physical presence in the center of the ice that Nashville sorely needed.
"It was a big addition at the time," head coach Peter Laviolette said Tuesday as the Predators prepare for either the Ducks or Oilers in round three. "Pieces like that are hard to come by. He's young, he's 6'3, he's big, he's skilled, he's talented. From an organizational standpoint of what we needed, it made a lot of sense."
Nashville's need for a top line centerman was notable in the team's opening round loss to the Blackhawks in 2015. Laviolette's first Predators team led the NHL in points for much of the season, but faded down the stretch and was badly outmatched in that series in the face off circle and in speed and puck handling compared to offensive stars like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
The addition of Johansen changed the Predators makeup on the top line. That was most evident in this year's first round rematch with the Blackhawks when Johansen scored a goal and contributed four assists while completely neutralizing Toews.
During one game three scrum Johansen put his hand in Toews' face, pushing him out of the way. It was a clear sign that the Predators are no longer intimidated by the star-studded top lines of other teams.
"He's been a horse for us," said Johansen's linemate Viktor Arvidsson. "He's been battling the best centermen in the league, so he's been doing a great job."
The top line trio of Johansen, Arvidson and Filip Forsberg combined for 13 points in the four games against the Blackhawks. They had a quieter series statistically against the Blues, but made their presence felt again with puck possession and a strong defensive effort against St. Louis's top line.
And they came up big when it mattered the most with Arvidsson finding Johansen for that game-winner in game six.
Johansen is tied with Ryan Ellis for the team lead in points in the playoffs with nine. That comes on the heels of a regular season in which he was tied with Arvidsson for the team lead with 61 while distributing a whopping 47 assists.
"Ryan's had an excellent year," Laviolette said. "The growth as a person and as a leader, as someone who wants to be that guy, to make a difference and lead a team in the right direction. That's been noticeable that he's really trying to take ownership."
Johansen has grown into exactly the type of a player the Predators hoped for when they traded for him 15 months ago. He is a dependable, playmaking center that dominates the face off circle and won't back down from anyone.
"He's been developing his game since really day one that he came here," Forsberg said. "Just becoming more and more of an impact for the team, and he's definitely showing how good of a player he is."
Johansen's skill has been on display through the first two rounds, leading the Predators to new heights.
If they're going to bring home their first Stanley Cup next month, you can bet Johansen will be in the middle of it.