NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The Predators’ slogan for this season is ‘Rise Up’, a motto that was put into action Saturday night with them staring at a possible 2-0 first round deficit against the Stars. Craig Smith’s unassisted goal at the five minute mark of overtime giving Nashville a 2-1 win and evening this series at a game a piece.
Both teams had chances with Viktor Arvidsson pounding a couple chances into Ben Bishop’s blocker in the first 90 seconds and then Pekka Rinne stopping former teammate Alexander Radulov on the doorstep just over a minute later.
But then the Preds, dogged on the forecheck all night, managed to keep the puck in the offensive zone and Smith found it sliding to his feet and ripped a wrister past Bishop for a massive game-winner.
Smith is rarely mentioned among the Predators top stars or leaders, but he was both when they really needed it in game two. Even before the winning goal, he was skating fast and playing hard on the puck. He fired five shot, third most on the team, and collected a hit and a blocked shot.
He also ignited the Bridgestone Arena crowd once again to “playoff loud” decibel levels when he leveled Blake Comeau midway through the third period after referees missed a Comeau cross-check after a Smith shot attempt.
It was noticeable fire from one of the longest tenured members of a team that many fans feel has been lacking in that category for much of this season. And while it put the Stars on a power play for the sixth time in the game, the Predators successfully managed to kill off all six with the crowd roaring louder in approval each time.
The Predators also got a spark from 5’6 forward Rocco Grimaldi, who came up big after being inserted into the lineup when Brian Boyle was scratched due to illness. Grimaldi got Nashville on the board in the second period, depositing an Austin Watson pass from behind the net for his first career playoff goal.
It was a huge goal at the time for a Predators team that had dominated five-on-five action for the first period, but found themselves down 1-0 after Jamie Benn capitalized on a Mattias Ekholm giveaway inside the Nashville zone.
Ekholm had a regrettable night that also included three of the Preds’ six penalties. The Stars took advantage of their time with the man advantage and Nashville’s few puckhandling mistakes to put some quality scoring chances together in front of Rinne despite being outshot 42-23.
That needs to be a lesson for the Predators. There have only been eight goals scored in this series through 125 minutes of two of the top three defensive teams in the league. And in a low-scoring series one mistake, like a giveaway or penalty, can be the difference in a game or even the series.
On Saturday the difference was Grimaldi’s spark, Smith’s goal and the Predators’ determination not to go down 2-0 on home ice.
And it means we’re all square headed to Dallas for a pivotal game three Monday night.
As P.K. Subban said about Smith’s sudden death overtime winner: “It’s big. But game three will be even bigger.”