When one thinks of traditional hockey hotbeds, places like Detroit, Chicago, Toronto, New York, Minnesota and Montreal quickly come to mind. Nashville is the last place, where a hockey die-hard would associate Stanley Cup and hockey in the same breath.
When one mentions the so-called “Music City”, images of Dolly Parton, Kelsea Ballerini, Taylor Swift, Luke Bryan, Carrie Underwood, Ryman Auditorium, The Country Music Awards and The Grand Ole Opry quickly come to mind. In addition to being the focus of ABC’s longtime primetime drama “Nashville” and the now-legendary “Music City Miracle”—sorry Bills fans!—Nashville is dab-smack in the heart of SEC football country and the home of Vanderbilt University—one of the Southern Magnolia institutions of higher learning, south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Thanks to their gritty and workman-like play, it may be time to put the Tennessee capital and their upstart Nashville Predators and their raucous home rink, the Bridgestone Arena on the proverbial NHL map.
While Detroit has been known as “Hockeytown USA” for decades, Nashville is quickly living up to its new moniker of “Smashville” in how they dispatched of the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues en route to their first-ever Western Conference final appearance where they will face the Anaheim Ducks.
Throughout the post-season, the boys from Music City have been bellowing some sweet tunes to the chorus of having the hottest netminder between the pipes in Predators goalie Pekka Rinne who has the lowest goals against average (1.37), save percentage (.951) and is tied for second in shutouts (2) and tied for third in wins with eight.
If there is one thing that all NHL fans and teams have learned is that a team with a hot goalie such as Rinne, usually makes a deep run in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
If Rinne’s work between the pipes has been solid, Nashville has also gotten solid and timely contributions from defenseman Roman Josi’s four goals, center Ryan Johansen’s seven assists—good for seventh among all post-season players. Nashville’s defensemen duo of P.K. Subban and Ryan Ellis both rank 12th and 19th among active post-season players in assists with six and five.
Left wing Filip Forsberg ranks second in the post-season in plus-minus with 11, followed by teammates Viktor Arvidsson (10) currently tied for third. Defensemen Mattias Ekholm is tied for eighth in post-season plus/minus with a rating of eight alongside center Ryan Johansen. The forementioned Subban ranks 20th in plus-minus at five.
Nashville also boats two of top players with the most ice time per game in Josi (25:34) and Subban (25:24) as well as one of the top ten best in faceoff wins in the forementioned Johanseen who has a faceoff win percentage of 55.6 percent.
While some may dismiss the above analytics as a glorified data dump, if you look closer, it explains the secret to Nashville’s success this postseason.
You have a goalie in Rinne stopping everything, which in turn, you have a team that plays tough defense, scores timely goals with a high assist ration, who keeps a lot of puck control in having their most skilled players on the ice for long shifts, capable of wining more than half of their face offs, thus controlling the tempo and style of the game.
Simple enough for ya?
Good. Because of these reasons, I’m going to say that Nashville is my pick to advance to the Stanley Cup and face my Pittsburgh Penguins, right now.
There is just SOMETHING of this physical, tough-minded, blue-collar group of boys from the Athens of the South that just clicks, and is clicking for them at the right time. Call it coaching or just dumb luck, but clearly Peter Laviolette, has the Preds looking like another Southern-based hockey club that he coached, the Carolina Hurricanes—that went on to win the Stanley Cup in 2006.
Call it a case of happenstance, championship-level coaching and tough and gritty-minded players buying into a simple system, but if you haven’t already, don’t’ sleep on the Predators, as they are preying on all teams this post-season, and have their eyes firmly set on creating a Music City miracle of their own this coming June.