Craig Smith scored the game winning goal in overtime on Saturday night, evening up the series between the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars at one game apiece.

It was Craig Smith’s first ever playoff overtime winning goal, which is interesting for a guy who has been on so many good playoff teams in franchise history. Incidentally, Smith is also a guy some in the locker room consider to be the “identity of the team.”

“I think when he plays he exudes, kind of, the identity of our team,” P.K. Subban said of Craig Smith after the game. “The way he plays, knees bent, he pounds his legs, gets in on the forecheck, great energy every shift. When he does that, he’s one of our best players every night.”

There was plenty more praise for Craig Smith to go around.

“That’s what Smitty does, that’s what Smitty brings every night,” Ryan Johansen said after the game. “That tenacity and going to the tough areas and finding a way to make plays. We’ve seen that many times before with him.”

Austin Watson talked about how Smith plays with a “dog on a bone” mentality, something the Predators preach every day.

“To see him just continue to work like he always does and to get rewarded for it, it was a huge goal. Good on him for working for it.”

And head coach Peter Laviolette mentioned after the game that Smith is one of his easiest players to coach from a work ethic stand point.

“I’ve never had a conversation with Craig Smith to say, ‘We need more out of you.’ He gives everything he can every night. For me, that’s always given.”

Craig Smith’s goal sealed the win for the Preds, ensuring that the series heads to Dallas tied up 1-1. But the game itself was an intense back and forth affair. For a while it seemed like the Preds would be in an 0-2 hole going into Monday.

Plenty Of Chances, Not Many Goals

The Preds didn’t start off quite as hot in this one as they did in Game 1. They failed to score in the opening period, though they did generate several good chances on Ben Bishop. Bishop played excellent yet again for the Stars, belying his historical record against Nashville.

Special teams was a major factor early on in this one. Yet again, the power play failed to convert for the Preds, but the penalty kill did a great job holding the Stars scoreless on five chances. The biggest kill came on a Mattias Ekholm double penalty, where he mouthed off to a referee and got himself an unsportsmanlike in addition to interference.

Speaking of Ekholm, Dallas took the lead in the 2nd period after a crucial mistake by the Swedish defenseman. With possession of the puck behind the boards, Ekholm sent the puck right onto the stick of Tyler Seguin. Seguin then found Jamie Benn on the backdoor and gave the Stars a 1-0 lead.

But the Preds answered. Two minutes later, Rocco Grimaldi took a pass from Austin Watson from behind the net and roofed home his first career playoff goal to tie the game at 1-1.

Grimaldi was only in the lineup because Brian Boyle was out due to an illness. Boyle’s absence cleared the way for Grimaldi’s speed. I mentioned this week he would be a great addition to the lineup in Game 2 and his speed helped tie the game for the Preds.

Meanwhile, that goal rejuvenated the home crowd. The Preds pressed into the Stars zone for much of the rest of the 2nd period, though they couldn’t get the go ahead goal by Bishop.

Things were relatively tight in the 3rd period, with the Preds generating two more shots on goal than the Stars. But then both defenses clamped down in their own zones and the refs swallowed their whistles. With both teams hesitant to do much late in the period, the game went to overtime.

Enter Craig Smith, the “identity” of the team.

Smith broke through five minutes into overtime on a gritty, tough-nose, rebound goal in front of Bishop. After a shot by Ekholm from the point, the puck took a fortunate bounce in front of Bishop.

Smith was there and he didn’t miss.

That goal tied the series. And it completely changed the mindset of the Preds as the series switches to Dallas.

Down 0-2, the Preds would have almost certainly been desperate for a win in Game 3. Now with the series tied, they just need to push for a split in Dallas to flip the series back in their favor. A win on Dallas’ ice would give Nashville home ice advantage again.

Laviolette, knowing how much Craig Smith means to this franchise and the locker room, knows how big of a goal that was for him. But he also knows it was a sizable shift in the series.

“Smith has been here a long time, he’s got a lot of 20-goal seasons under his belt and is certainly capable of a big goal like that,” Laviolette said of Smith after the game.

“We need people to step up. When you’re in a situation like that and down by a game in a series, you get into overtime, you can weigh the two results. We needed to get a win, we needed somebody, so it was really good for Craig.”

— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —
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