Five minutes and 37 seconds into the second overtime period, Kevin Fiala took a feed from Craig Smith and slammed home the game-winning goal past an unsuspecting Connor Hellebuyck, lifting the Nashville Predators to a 5-4 win over the Winnipeg Jets and knotting the best-of-seven series up 1-1.
“It was two against one and it was a great play made by Craig,” Fiala said. “I was just hoping for a pass from him, he saw me and I scored the goal.”
Although he is just 21, Fiala has already scored two of the biggest goals in Nashville Predators playoff history; he scored the overtime winner last year against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 3 of the first round.
In doing so, Fiala became the first player in Preds franchise history to score multiple overtime goals in the postseason.
Kevin Fiala scored his second career overtime goal in the #StanleyCup Playoffs (also Game 3 of 2017 FR vs. CHI).
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) April 30, 2018
“He is that kind of player,” Preds forward Viktor Arvidsson said. “He can make things happen and kind of be that guy who comes out of nowhere and scores goals. He’s a great goal scorer and he’s been great for us this season.”
Fiala had expressed disappointment within himself about his performance against the Colorado Avalanche in Round 1. He vowed to be better against the Jets, and better he has been.
“I’m very thankful everybody has my back,” Fiala said before Game 1 against Winnipeg. “I played very bad and it’s not acceptable to me. But I will do everything to be better.”
Since Fiala’s declaration, he has elevated not only his level of play, but his linemate’s as well. With only two points through six games against the Avalance, Fiala has already matched that total in just two games against the Jets.
In those two games, Fiala’s line (with Smith and Kyle Turris) has accounted for two goals and five points.
“We talked to the line,” Preds coach Peter Laviolette said about shifting from one series to the next. “Just kind of the same thing I’ve been saying from the last game, this game is a new game. One series to the next for a line, I believe, is a new opportunity.
“You’ve got to go out and contribute. Sometimes when you close the door on one team and open up another one it’s like a fresh start.”
“I think our whole line played a great game the last game too,” Fiala added. “It’s just great character. Everybody tightened up our laces and came back and kind of just didn’t care and played our game. We know what we have to do.”
With the series tied 1-1 and heading back to Winnipeg for Game 3, the Preds know they will have to steal a game on the road to have a shot at winning this series.
“(We need to) steal, for sure,” Fiala said. “We have to win the next one.”
“We’ve got to go on the road right now and do what we’ve done all year, win,” defenseman P.K. Subban added. “We’ve got to get ready for the toughest road trip of the year.”
While the Jets are fresh off the franchise’s first playoff win and playoff series win, experience certainly rests on Nashville’s side. However, Laviolette has stated in the playoffs experience may not mean as much as one would think.
“I don’t think (experience) is something you can hang your hat on,” he said. “They could easily win that game as well. There was a time three years ago, when we still had 10 or 11 of these guys in the room and we had really no experience. That doesn’t guarantee…just because you have experience doesn’t guarantee anything.”