Post-season heroes come in all forms, from the star player to the unknown fourth-liner. We all know the exploits of the great playoff performers. However, we hardly hear about the unlikely playoff heroes. These unlikely post-season stars can contribute in many ways. Contributions could be for an entire playoff run, a series, a game or even a goal. These unlikely heroes have made big plays that no one expects. This series looks at all of these unknown stars. These are the unlikely Nashville Predators playoff heroes.
Nashville Predators Playoff Heroes
Before the Moment
Colton Sissons was the cream of the Nashville Predators’ draft crop in 2012. Unfortunately, that accolade isn’t all that flattering. The only other notable Predators’ pick that year was Pontus Aberg who was selected 13 places above Colton Sissons. However, since then, Sissons has become a mainstay in Nashville while Aberg is living as a league journeyman; he has spent time on five different NHL rosters in the last three seasons.
The 2016-17 season was Colton Sissons’ first year as a full-time Predator. He was called up from the Milwaukee Admirals during the stretch run in 2016 after fourth-line center Paul Gaustad suffered an upper-body injury in early March. The 200 pound centre was the youngest captain in Admirals history and became a key addition to a talented Nashville roster because of his dominance in the faceoff circle.
The Moment Part 1
Before the 2016-17 season, Nashville had never made it past the second round of the playoffs. Little did they know that they were about to make a historic run to the Stanley Cup Final which would trail blaze the market’s emergence as a big-time contender in the league. And Colton Sissons would be pivotal to their success. In the first round, the Predators were up against the first-place Chicago Blackhawks.
Historically, the Blackhawks had stomped all over Nashville. They had met them twice and beaten them in six games during the first rounds of 2010 and 2015. This was during their infamous run of three Cups in six years. Predators fans will bitterly remember both series as ones Nashville had a chance of winning but choked in crucial moments.
In 2016-17, however, the shoe was very much on the other foot. The Predators sucker-punched the Blackhawks in a shocking eighth seed sweep. It was so dominant that the Predators allowed just one even-strength goal in the series, and three in total. They shut the Blackhawks out in the first two games at United Center as Pekka Rinne came into the form of his life (.976 save percentage in the series).
Game 4 saw Sissons seize the moment and secure the series, along with his place as one of the Nashville Predators’ playoff heroes. As the Blackhawks’ attack broke down, the ice opened wide for Viktor Arvidsson to burst into the vacant space. As defenders trailed behind, the left-winger squared his body and fed a pass into the slot for Sissons to rip one in off the bar. The Predators were now two goals up, midway through the third period and would close the game out for a memorable series win against their bitter divisional rivals.
The Moment Part 2
Sissons followed up his series clincher with further postseason success in the Predators’ ill-tempered Western Conference Final series with the Anaheim Ducks. The British Columbia-native registered his first NHL hat trick in Game 6 in front of a rapturous Bridgestone Arena as Nashville capped off their Conference Final victory against their long-standing playoff rivals. Sissons’ hat trick goal was a beauty. He sniped a bobbling cross-ice pass into the roof of the net to put the Predators 4-3 up and send the home crowd into delirium. The goal ultimately sent the Predators to the Stanley Cup Final for the first and only time in their history.
Sissons had sealed two series wins on the Predators’ path to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. They would go on to lose the series in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sissons finished with a 2017 postseason record of six goals and 12 points.
Sissons has kicked on from his career year (2016-17) in which he registered his first NHL game-winner, hat trick, powerplay and a short-handed goal. He is a bottom-six, Swiss army knife type player for the Predators. Playing both centre and wing, he can be relied upon for double-digit goals and around 30 points a season. Sissons has been well recompensed following his playoff heroics. At the time of the Stanley Cup run, he had just signed a three-year extension on a minimum salary contract.
Last year, however, the Nashville Predators inked Sissons to a seven-year extension worth just over $20 million dollars with an AAV of $2.857 million. Since the 2016-17 run, Sissons has scored 33 goals and 72 points in 213 games. He has also remained a consistent value in the faceoff circle. To this day, Sissons holds a 53.1 percent faceoff record in his NHL career; his only sub 50 percent season was his first year at Bridgestone Arena.
Before the Moment
Canadian-born, Matt Halischuk was selected 117th overall in the fourth round of the 2007 Entry draft by the New Jersey Devils. He came to Nashville as part of the Jason Arnott trade in 2010. Arnott returned to the Devils in the twilight of his career as the Predators sought to capitalize on the veteran’s goal-scoring prowess as a trade-able asset in a bid to get younger.
Halischuk arrived in Smashville with limited NHL experience but would start his career as a Predator well. In the 2010-11 season, his minor league output remained consistent with the Milwaukee Admirals which earned him a call up for the stretch run before the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
After their first-ever playoff series win against the Anaheim Ducks, the Predators advanced to the Western Conference Semifinals where they would play a formidable Vancouver Canucks outfit. Nashville entered their second-round series as massive underdogs having been the weakest offensive team among playoff contenders in the West. While their defence was stout, as was to be expected from a well-drilled Barry Trotz unit, they were up against a President’s Trophy-winning Canucks team. Vancouver boasted not only the NHL’s most prolific offence but was also the stingiest defence in the entire league. A true behemoth of an opponent!
The Predators were shut out in Game 1 despite Pekka Rinne standing on his head to keep them in the fight, a trend that would continue throughout the series. Game 2 was a tight and cagey affair which would continue deep into the night as both teams sparred without flinching, while the goaltenders put on a puck-stopping clinic.
As the clock drained on a relentless second overtime period, suddenly a broken play from a neutral zone face-off became a clever backhanded pass. Ryan Suter had created space to facilitate a zone entry which saw the Canucks back on their heels. Nick Spaling skated in and dished the puck across the slot to Matt Halischuk, who shovelled the sliding puck past Roberto Luongo, who was caught sliding east to west across his crease. The Predators had sealed a memorable sudden death win. It was Matt Halischuk’s second and final NHL playoff goal. He is arguably the unlikeliest of all the Nashville Predators’ playoff heroes.
Ryan Kesler scored five goals in the next four games and the Canucks pipped the Predators in six games. Vancouver ended up going all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. They lost in six to the Boston Bruins on the back of a save percentage bender from Tim Thomas. In hindsight, they are probably one of the most gifted teams to never win a Stanley Cup.
The following season (2011-12), Halischuk rode a hot hand thanks to an inflated (15.6 percent) shooting percentage. That saw him cash in with a career-high 15 goals and 28 points in 73 games. Unfortunately for him, this purple patch was short-lived. In the four seasons that followed, Halischuk would cobble together just 13 more goals. He had stints in the minor leagues with the Manitoba Moose after he was traded from Nashville to the Winnipeg Jets. He finished his NHL career there in 2016.
Before the Moment
Jerred Smithson went undrafted and was picked up as a free agent by the Los Angeles Kings in 2000. Before his NHL career began, he played at major junior level in the Western Hockey League for the Calgary Hitmen. After his contract ran out in L.A., Smithson signed with the Nashville Predators where he grew into a reliable fourth-line centre. He started gaining more ice time when he was entrusted with taking face-offs for the Predators. Going into the 2011 playoffs he had recorded six consecutive regular seasons of reaching double-figures in points.
Smithson’s became one of the Nashville Predators’ playoff heroes during the first-round series against the Anaheim Ducks in 2011. The series was evenly poised, tied 2-2 as the Predators headed back to California for what would be a series-defining Game 5. This was a back-and-forth affair with Bobby Ryan scoring an absolute beauty of a goal to make it 2-1 in the third. Pinching the puck on a potential breakaway, he undressed David Legwand twice and hoodwinked a backtracking Shea Weber before deking around Rinne to finish off one of the best individual efforts I have ever seen. Later, Shea Weber would tie it up on a snap shot in the last minute of the third period to send the game into overtime.
This was where Smithson was etched into Predators’ history. Battling in the neutral zone, Smithson facilitated the zone entry with a big hit on Brandon McMillan beside the benches. As Nashville retained possession, the puck came behind the net where Jordin Tootoo held possession for an on-rushing Smithson. Feeding a pass out in front, Nashville’s fourth-line centre stuffed the puck into the gaping cage to deal a hammer blow to the Ducks in a pivotal Game 5. Nashville would go on to win its first-ever playoff series. The Ducks and Predators developed a fiercely bitter rivalry that would deepen over the ensuing years.
Smithson would only spend one more season in Nashville. He was traded to the Florida Panthers at the 2012 trade deadline and from there, his career slowly petered out. The lockout-shortened season saw him end the year with the Edmonton Oilers. He finished his NHL career the year after as a Toronto Maple Leaf. He played 10 more playoff games after his double-overtime winner, recording a single assist during that span.