Tim McGraw's "I Like it, I Love it" cascaded down from the rafters at Bridgestone Arena late in the third period Monday night while Predators fans celebrated Colton Sissons's hat trick and eventual game-winning goal. Nashville topped the visiting Anaheim Ducks 6-3 in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final and took the series, four games to two. The win sends Nashville to its first-ever Stanley Cup Final.
The Predators jumped out to a 2-0 lead less than nine minutes into the game. Autsin Watson collected a loose puck and flung a wrist shot from the side boards toward Anaheim's net. The puck deflected off defenseman Brandon Montour's skate and past goalie Jonathan Bernier—starting in place of an injured John Gibson—just 81 seconds into the opening stanza. The second goal belonged to Sissons, who scored from the slot at 8:47. The Predators' two tallies in the period came on just four shots on goal.
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Ondrej Kase cut the Ducks' deficit in half in the second period. Off to the side of the net, Ryan Getzlaf dished him the puck in the slot, and Kase buried his shot at 4:45.
Sissons scored twice in the third, bookending a pair of goals by the Ducks' Chris Wagner and Cam Fowler, to give the Predators a 4-3 lead. Sissons's final strike—a snap shot as he went down on one knee near the left face-off circle—came with six minutes left in the game. Empty-net tallies from Filip Forsberg and Austin Watson capped off the night. Sissons's three-goal effort became the Predators' second-ever playoff hat trick, following Filip Forsberg's in 2015. Sissons also became the fifth player to record a hat trick during a series-clinching win to reach the Stanley Cup Final in the past 40 years.
In the final four games of the Western Conference Final, the Predators outscored the Ducks 10-2 in the third period.
The Nashville Predators have played in the NHL for 18 years. They've made the playoffs 10 times. Their best showing prior to this year had been playing in the second round. Nashville will now face off against either the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Ottawa Senators in the Stanley Cup Final starting on May 29. Currently, the Penguins hold a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference Final and will look to clinch their berth to the Cup Final Tuesday night in Ottawa.
Predators ride Rinne
Monday's win lifted a massive monkey off the back of Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne. Prior to the victory, he led all active NHL goalies who hadn't reached the Cup Final in career playoff wins (33). Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals (29), Ryan Miller (28), Carey Price (25) and Craig Anderson (22) round out the top five.
One third of that total for Rinne came this postseason. Before Game 6, Rinne also sported a 1.62 goals against average to go with a .942 save percentage and two shutouts during the 2017 playoffs. If Nashville goes on to win the Stanley Cup this postseason, the Predators will owe a huge part of their success to the 6-foot-5 Finnish sensation who resides in between the team's pipes.
Depth, depth and more depth
Sixteen: That's the number of wins needed to take the Stanley Cup. It's also how many players that had scored for the Predators this postseason heading into to Game 6 of the Western Conference Final.
It's a really impressive feat. What's even more impressive is that only three of those 16 Predators had at least five goals this postseason heading into Monday night. Three skaters scored in Nashville's West-clinching win. Keep an eye on this trend, it'll be another key to success if Nashville takes the Cup.
Anaheim's power play goes kaput
A large reason for the Ducks falling short against the the Predators in the Western Conference Final was their woeful power play performance. The Ducks finished the series 2-for-18 on it, including 0-for-10 in the final three games of the Western Conference Final and 0-for-4 Monday night.