Nashville Predators teams in the past were known for being tough opponents to play. Sound defensive hockey, timely goal scoring, great goaltending, and resourceful coaching all added up to a lot of 2-1 hockey games with hard-nosed play at every inch of a 200 foot long sheet of ice.

And while this year’s Preds team also brings plenty of grit and resourcefulness, they are also starting to bring something else: swagger.

These Preds are good and they know it.

Take for example Matt Duchene’s comments after last night’s epic 6-5 win over the Washington Capitals. When discussing the win, he mentioned something that he and teammate Ryan Johansen were talking about during the 2nd intermission.

“It was great. [Ryan Johansen] and I were sitting on the couch during the second intermission in the lounge, and we both thought that we were going to win the game. We just had that feeling,” Duchene said to media after the game.

“I think that all of us felt that in here and we talked about it. We didn’t feel like we deserved to be down 4-2 going into the third period.”

Duchene was right. They were largely outplaying the Capitals to that point, especially at 5-on-5. The Caps built their two goal lead partly because Alex Ovechkin continues to dominate NHL goaltenders on the power play. His two goals on the man advantage came from the “Ovi Spot” on the left circle and Pekka Rinne had no chance.

But at that point, the Preds had out attempted the Caps 35 to 24 at even strength, getting eight chances in the high danger area, compared to the Caps’ five. While their defensive play was suspect at times, like Duchene said, they probably “didn’t deserve” to be down by two goals at that point.

It’s one thing to feel like you can win when down by two goals. It’s another thing to feel like you deserve to win and to know you can do it.

Duchene, Johansen spark 3rd period comeback

And after that 2nd intermission chat with Johansen, what did Duchene and company do? Score four goals in the 3rd period en route to a thrilling victory at Bridgestone Arena.

Johansen did his part first, scoring on a scrappy play in front of the Washington net while the Preds were on the power play. A shot that Braden Holtby thought he’d stopped lay underneath his pads, still free. Johansen poked the puck through to get the Preds within one.

A little over one minute later, Duchene did his part. In what was yet another fantastic play from the Preds’ dynamic “2nd line”, Filip Forsberg found Duchene streaking in on Holtby. Duchene sent a one timer to tie the game at 4-4.

The Caps did answer, getting a goal from T.J. Oshie at 10:09 of the 3rd period to make it 5-4. But, again, the Preds never seem out of games with this offense.

Nick Bonino scored a goal at 14:52 of the 3rd period to tie things back up at 5-5. The shot and was not as clean, nor was the pass from Austin Watson as crisp as the ones from Forsberg and Duchene earlier in the evening, but the goal still counted.

And before the in arena announcer could even announce the goal to the raucous crowd, Mattias Ekholm sent a booming slap shot from the blueline to give the Preds a 6-5 lead. Just another “new Preds, meet old Preds” moment as you could see shades of Shea Weber in the speed and power of the shot  from Ekholm.

A little swagger from the Preds

Let’s be clear that Duchene’s comments should not be seen as arrogance. He wasn’t showing up the Capitals or disrespecting his opponents on the ice. He was just being confident.

Duchene and the rest of his teammates know they are good. They know they can beat anyone, and they showed it last night.

This is what many people in Nashville, and elsewhere, are starting to realize: that with a bonafide offense-first minded center to compliment an already accomplished first line center in Ryan Johansen, this Preds team is a force to be reckoned with. The forwards are playing well together not only because they’ve found chemistry, but because they are really good forwards with a lot of skill.

“I think we’ve been playing really well offensively,” Filip Forsberg said after the game. “All three of us are creating chances. [Duchene] got his first one, [Granlund] had a couple apples (assists) tonight. I think we’re working well. We’re working hard at creating chances and hopefully we can keep it going.”

Speaking of Forsberg and swagger, he had a memorable moment of confidence similar to Duchene, but with his coming on-ice as opposed to off-ice. Following his goal in the 1st period, he had a basketball follow-through celebration that seemed quite planned.

You don’t see many hockey players pre-plan their celebrations these days, especially not someone like Forsberg. He’s usually the one silently working hard to fight for the puck, committing himself to smart defensive play, and being resourceful with the puck along the boards.

But this Preds team is just different. It’s swagger is undeniable and after a 3-1 start, their confidence could not be higher.

— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —

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