They always say that rivalries are born and forged in the fiery pits of the playoffs. With the Sharks and the Predators, this is certainly the case.
These two teams, who had no reason to really care one way or the other about each up until last season, are in the midst of forming one of the great new rivalries of the "New NHL." Meeting each other in the 4-5 seed matchup for the second straight season will do that to you.
The Predators, never really known for their physical play and not once in their brief history described as a dirty team, are taking the aggressor's role in the first two game with their vicious play. While the league office and anyone not drinking Ron Wilson's Kool-Aid have deemed all of the plays as part of the game of hockey, everyone wearing a Shark Head or a teal jersey thinks that we're the second coming of Charles Manson and his maniacal men and women.
At the end of the game last night, it was Ryan Clowe who deliberately dropped his gloves and proceeded to skate across the circle and attack Scott Hartnell who was already locked up in an altercation with Mike Grier. But that's hockey and that's definitely playoff hockey.
The Predators have never shown this much intensity in two consecutive games in their brief history and the reason has to be the influx of grit and experience in the form of Peter Forsberg, Jason Arnott and certainly J.P. Dumont. These three players raise their game in the playoffs and by association raise the game of those around them.
Just ask Alexander Radulov, who sits second in scoring in the playoffs (behind Dumont) despite being a rookie playing in his first two NHL playoff games. All three of his goals are highlight-reel worthy and demonstrate that if anyone is worthy of a 15 year contract, it's this young Russian sniper.
When J.P. Dumont sought out the Predators in the off-season and signed a two year contract with Nashville, we were told of his playoff exploits. He earned our respect 39 seconds into the season opener when he scored the Preds first goal of the story. He became the stuff of legend last night when he scored the short-handed goal in the second period that broke open a close fought game and may have saved the series for the Preds. You can already hear National Anthem singers Vince Gill and Amy Grant working on the Dumont country song.
Has anyone bothered to ask Peter Forsberg about his foot lately? I seem to remember that the Preds were chastised for trading away their future for a hobbled player way past his prime. Ask Marc-Edouard Vlasic if Peter Forsberg is too old to play this game? Sure Vlasic is only 19 years old, but Forsberg gave him an education in smoked last night on the Preds' second goal of the game.
Forsberg is worth two Upshalls and a Parent to be named later. Long after he's left the Preds, we will still be enjoying the fruit of his labors while he was here each and every time Alexander Radulov lights the red lamp.
Does Ron Wilson hold a secret desire for a career in Hollywood? Is he Rita Wilson's long lost brother? I have never seen one coach whine and try to manipulate a series through the media as Wilson has done in the past two playoff seasons. Last year after game 1, he complained that 6'4" 235 pound center Joe Thornton was being manhandled and abused at the hands of our munchkin lineup. His performance earned a steady trip to the penalty box for the Preds in Game 2 and a series changing victory.
This year, the cry factor was again in complete effect as he claimed that Hartnell deliberately attempted to injure Cheechoo with a kneeing incident and a phantom elbow. The theatrics were in rare form as he made it seem that it was a miracle that Cheechoo survived such a vicious attack, only to see Cheechoo play and get an assist in game 2.
And for his encore, the enigmatic Wilson only offered the words "No Comment" to a room full of media professionals certainly waiting to ask what holy tonic was given to the Cheechoo to allow him to walk, let alone skate again. I guess he didn't want to explain why he threw his goons out on the ice and gave them direct orders to beat up Scott Hartnell.
At the end of the day, this series is in the exact same place as it was a year ago. The landscape shifts to San Jose tied one game apiece. But there's a world of difference between last season and this playoff series.
Last year, the Sharks had all of the momentum on their side and it seemed only a matter of time before they dispatched of the Predators. This season, the Sharks are return to the Shark tank with their fin between their legs. They know that they are extremely lucky to have gotten a win in Nashville.
The Predators have carried the play since the Hartnell incident in game 1 and unlike last year, there's plenty of new faces in the Preds' locker room that won't sit back and let the Sharks roll right past them.
No, this year, there's a Forsberg, Dumont, Radulov and Arnott waiting to push back.