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    Preds vs. Ducks: Fans take swing at smash car

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    Adam Vingan and Joe Rexrode analyze the Predators’ victory against the Ducks

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    Adam Vingan and Joe Rexrode analyze the Predators’ loss to the Ducks

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    Predators players look forward to first Western Conference finals

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    Adam Vingan and Joe Rexrode analyze the Predators’ victory over the Blues

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    Nashville Predators fans beg to flip the Blues Smash car after historic win

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    Predators make history, head to Western Conference finals

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    Predators vs. Blues Game 1 analysis

There’s nothing terribly surprising about the Anaheim Ducks beating the Nashville Predators on Thursday at Bridgestone Arena to even the Western Conference final at 2-2.

But it was a surprisingly terrible night for the home team. Until it became an incredibly stirring night. Until it ended like this – Anaheim’s Corey Perry flipped a shot that hit P.K. Subban’s stick and got past Pekka Rinne with 9:35 left in overtime to win 3-2, sucking the excitement out of Bridgestone Arena that peaked when Filip Forsberg tied the game with 34.5 seconds left in regulation.

At that point, there was no way the Predators were going to lose. Until they did. So now we have a new series, tied up by a team that frankly deserves to be in this position based on the way they carried the play for the majority of a desperation game for them.

Thursday featured the worst period of hockey the Predators have played since long before this dreamy postseason began. They were outshot 14-2 in the first 20 minutes, and outhustled, outskated, out-toughed, out-executed in the faceoff circle – put “out” in front of any positive sports verb you can produce and it will work here.

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They responded and threw everything they had at Ducks goaltender John Gibson in the final 30 minutes of the game, and when Subban finally got a slap shot past him with 6:27 to play, another frantic finish in front of another uproarious Bridgestone Arena crowd was assured.

 

Gibson stood tall through 91 seconds of a two-man advantage, and it was all but over when Forsberg – Mr. Clutch, Mr. Magic, Mr. May, whatever you want to call him – jammed home a rebound to tie. The fact that Gibson and the Ducks bounced back from that play and the resulting scene to win is nothing but a credit to them.

This was a streak breaker, a mystique buster, a sample of hockey that leaves the observer pondering a change in flavor. This thing has swung back to the Ducks, their home-ice advantage restored in a best-of-three situation that resumes Saturday at their Honda Center.

Bridgestone, which housed and aided 10 straight postseason wins entering Thursday, emptied quietly for the first time in a long time. In playoff terms, for the first time in more than a year, since the Ducks beat the Predators in Game 4 to tie a first-round series Nashville eventually won in seven.

But see, this is what the Ducks do. This is why they’re in the Western Conference final, and why it’s a series that will produce a worthy challenger for the Stanley Cup.

Beat them in overtime in Game 1 and smack them with two early goals in Game 2? They’ll turn things around with a second-period flurry and win.

Come back with two goals to beat them 2-1 in Game 3? They’ll race to a 2-0 lead, lose it but find a way to win in overtime of Game 4 – raucous Bridgestone atmosphere be darned.

On this night, the Predators moved from Keith Urban to Kelly Clarkson on the national anthem, and from Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota and his beer-chugging, chest-baring offensive linemen hyping the crowd to rock band Kings of Leon doing the honors. The atmosphere was as great as ever.

The team wasn’t, though the effort was supreme after the first period. Our temptation is to ask the Predators what went wrong, and why, and how they can get back to playing their game. But usually at this time of year when a team doesn’t play its game, it’s because the other team didn’t allow it to do so.

The Ducks were great Thursday, and Rickard Rakell and Nick Ritchie got shots high to get a pair past Pekka Rinne, a strategy that has served Anaheim well in this series.

Randy Carlyle’s team has the only defensive corps in the league that can approach Nashville’s in terms of young, versatile talent. And his team has been masterful at coming back all postseason. The Ducks were down 2-0 after two home loss to Edmonton, but won four of five games to take the series.

The Ducks have four multi-goal comebacks just in this postseason, including an incredible late revival from a 3-0 deficit against Edmonton in Game 5 to eventually win that game.

Then they got destroyed 7-1 in Game 6 and won Game 7. They don’t stop. That’s not how they’re built.

In the next few days, we’ll find out a lot more about the inner workings of these Predators. Keep in mind that if Nashville wins this first-ever conference final to reach its first-ever Stanley Cup final, that will be three series victories in this postseason – matching the all-time franchise total entering this postseason.

This is new territory, rare air, and the idea of strolling to the last round seems kind of silly now, doesn’t it? The Predators are going to have to win another one in Anaheim, at least one, and that doesn’t seem promising at this moment. Don’t be fooled into overreacting and thinking it isn’t possible.

Great series between great teams often feature wild swings in performance and perception. There is no clear read on where this is going, except that the winner of the East is going to have a heck of a time with the winner of the West.

Contact Joe Rexrode at jrexrode@tennessean.com and follow him on Twitter @joerexrode.