It just might have been the first time the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl was accepted by a man in a suit. That was the case Monday night when the Nashville Predators defeated the Anaheim Ducks to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.
Mike Fisher, the team captain, was injured in game 4, so had to watch from the luxury box the last two games.
As it has become tradition, Fisher did not touch the Campbell Bowl, nor did anyone else on the team. It is not the trophy that they want and would not make up if they fail to get four more wins. However, it didn't stop the team, including injured centre, Ryan Johansen, from gathering around the trophy and taking a picture. The last time I could remember anyone picking up the Campbell Bowl was when a very joyful Vancouver Canucks' captain Trevor Linden in 1994. He dropped the lid to the bowl when he lifted it up.
In the absence of the team's top two centres, other players needed to step up these last two games. It was Pontus Aberg last game, scoring the game winner. On this night, it was Colton Sissons, recording a natural hat-trick, including the game winner after the Ducks had come back to tie up the game at 3-3.
Nashville got the start any team would want, scoring just 1:21 into the 1st period on its very first shot. They would go up 2-0 a few minutes later on only its second shot. The roar inside the Bridgestone Arena was deafening.
It was not John Gibson in net for the Ducks. Out with a lower body injury, the Ducks would rely on former first round draft pick and highly touted goalie prospect, Jonathan Bernier, to force a game 7. Bernier needed to stop the second goal that was scored by Sissons, but it's hard to say that it would have made a difference if it had been the Ducks regular starter.
At the other end, Pekka Rinne, simply outshone Bernier. He would have done the same to Gibson. He stopped 38 of the 41 shots directed his way. The Finnish goalie leads the playoffs with an outstanding 1.70 GAA and .941 save percentage, along with 12 wins. To say he's been the best goalie of the playoffs is an understatement.
The final 6-3 score makes it seem more of a blowout, but the final 2 goals were scored into an empty net, sealing Anaheim's fate. The Predators had themselves a 3-1 lead before the Ducks managed to come back. But, Sissons final goal of the night had Nashville minutes away from winning the west.
This would have seemed impossible just a few years ago when the team was on shaky ground. Local ownership stepped in and prevented the team from possibly moving. The small market team then got good through smart drafting and trades. Predators first and only general manager, David Poile, and his staff (some of whom have been with him since day 1) deserve an incredible amount of credit for putting this team that is very capable of winning the Stanley Cup together.
And the fans should be given credit for fully embracing hockey in the south. No more is it just Nascar country. It's become hockey country, as well.
Welcome to Smashville.