As Nashville forward Kevin Fiala writhed in pain on the ice after colliding with Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo and slamming awkwardly into the boards, the air in the Scottrade Center became dense with silence and worried murmurs. It’s the kind of moment that can disrupt the flow of a hockey game, let alone the opening game of Round 2 in the NHL playoffs. It’s also the kind of moment where hockey takes a backseat. The magnitude of the game is put on pause, and the flow of what was a chippy, free-wheeling game up to that point, hit a brick wall (or in this case, one high-density plastic advertisement). It’s easy to lose the momentum or one’s focus at a time like that.
P.K. Subban, the Nashville Predators’ star defenseman, was one of the first players to stand near Fiala as he was being hooked up to a stretcher. While his 20-year-old teammate was being carted off the ice, Subban was also one of the first Predators to enter the scrum of medical staff to give Fiala the old, “we got this for you” pat on the shoulder pad.
Then, not two minutes of game-play later, the dazed lull of the injury timeout was broken. With a thunderous crack of his stick on the ice, Subban scored his first playoff goal as a Predator and single-handedly brought the game back to life.
It was Subban who set the tone of the game early on with a goal that turned out to be an assist; a tone that only he can drive. The best players don’t just hold on to the momentum, they make it. This is the Subban Nashville has been waiting for.
With his former team out of the playoff picture, Subban is now free to create a legacy of his own. No longer is Montreal’s storied history weighing on his shoulders. No longer are the numbers of legendary Montreal Canadiens defensemen like Guy Lapointe, Serge Savard or Doug Harvey literally hanging over his head, judging every movement or decision. This is Subban’s time now. For the first time in his NHL career, he is free to make his own history on his own terms and to make this Nashville Predators team his own.
And boy oh boy, did he ever make a statement last night in St. Louis. If this is what a freed up Subban looks like, the Blues are in big trouble.
When he’s emotionally involved in the game, Subban is a dangerous player and right from the get-go, he was locked in. He was buzzing all night, wreaking havoc on the Blues’ defense and offense, and creating space for himself to unleash all of that torque from his lofty windup of a slap shot. Every goal in the Preds’ 4-3 victory in Game 1 was a direct result of Subban’s skill. Even the broken play that led to Vernon Fiddler’s poke check goal was started by Subban, who swiftly moved the puck up the ice to start the attack.
And you think Subban’s feelin’ it? Take a look at this celly from his second goal:
— steph (@myregularface) April 27, 2017
One Last Push
The Blues made it tough for the Predators in the end, forcing them to a one-goal lead late in the third period. Alas, a team like that wasn’t just going to roll over. With the Blues’ net empty on the other end of the ice, the Predators were tenacious. Surprisingly, Subban was not on the ice for this moment. However, even if Subban is on the bench, you can’t keep him away from the action, as he was visibly chirping at Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko every time he touched the puck.
And as the final seconds of the game wound down, it was Subban who sent the puck from center ice into the empty St. Louis net to seal the deal. Only, much like his shots on goal for the first and third Nashville tallies, Subban didn’t actually get credit for the goal (neither did the team, due to an offside call). Nevertheless, Subban’s point was made. He started the game his way, and it’s only fitting that he finished it.
Jeff Yerger covers the Nashville Predators for THW. He once accidentally drew on one of Henrik Lundqvist’s suits (just don’t tell Hank). He is also a sucker for IPAs and saxophone solos. Find him on Twitter @jyergs.