A heavyweight champion sometimes isn't measured by how hard he hits, but rather how he handles his opponent's best punch.
The Detroit Red Wings didn't deliver a haymaker in their Western Conference Quarterfinal series, but the Nashville Predators survived several stiff uppercuts. They were still standing after Game 5, having eliminated the Red Wings after a 2-1 victory and hearing a delirious Smashville crowd serenade them to the second round.
"Right now it seems like another win, but it'll sink in a little bit, We'll go to the locker room and realize we just won four games against one of the better teams in the League," said goalie Pekka Rinne to NBC after the win.
[ Related: Preds' Legwand delivers death blow to Wings in 4-1 series win ]
Rinne was the difference in the series. He stopped 21 of 22 shots in Game 5, and stopped 151 of 160 for the series (.944 save percentage). In the third period of four of the five games, Rinne had to be incredible: Detroit outshot Nashville 60-36 in the final stanza for the series.
They took the punch, and they were still standing. In fact, there was never a lead change in the five games of the quarterfinal: The Predators took four leads that led to wins, and Detroit's one lead led to theirs in Game 2.
What did we learn after five games for Nashville? That's the meticulous construction of this team might be a championship foundation.
Rinne looks impenetrable. The blue line looks confident and deep as hell. Old hands like David Legwand, with a goal and an assist in Game 5, are playing well. Newbies like Gabriel Bourque are making a difference. The additions made by GM David Poile — the Kostitsyns, Paul Gaustad, Mike Fisher — are paying off.
And then there's Alex Radulov.
Radulov scored the first goal of the game and then used a spinning pass to help set up Legwand's game winner. He finished the series with five points in five games and a plus-5, looking every bit the game-changing offensive weapon the Predators anticipated he could be when he returned from the KHL.
"We played a hell of a series," he said after the game on NBC.
That's because they're a hell of a team, from the goaltending to the offensive spark to that added bit of edge they showed against Detroit — we may look back at "Webering" as less a passing fad than a seminal moment for a team that's transitioning from bullied to bully.
Let's file this bit of David Legwand chicanery under that heading as well:
Face-smashings, stolen pucks, 5-game series wins over the Detroit Red Wings … these are not the actions of a first-round-and-done pushover, which is what the Predators were until last season.
This is the savvy, sometimes sneaky, ultimately effective stuff of a team that believes they're on a championship path.
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