The Nashville Predators clinched 1st place in the Central Division last night with a 5-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks amid a raucous atmosphere at Bridgestone Arena. It was the culmination of an impressive late season surge by the Preds and a surprising “my, how the tables have turned” moment for Nashville.

That’s because two weeks ago, after a 5-0 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, no one would have thought a 1st place finish was even remotely possible for the Predators.

They were out of it.

Finished. Toast. Done-zo.

But then they got hot at the right time, winning five of their last six games, and taking advantage of the Jets losing five of their last seven games to make this run possible.

Because of this, the Predators will avoid the Jets and Blues in the first round, and instead they will face the Dallas Stars in the first ever playoff matchup between the two franchises.

Though you can probably credit any number of moments for helping the Predators get to this point, here are two that stick out among the rest.

Loss to Winnipeg Two Weeks Ago

The first moment is one I’ve already mentioned: the 5-0 blowout loss to Winnipeg two weeks ago.

After last night’s win over Chicago, Viktor Arvidsson was asked about the team’s improbable sprint toward the finish line to claim the Central. He mention the loss at Winnipeg almost immediately as a motivating factor.

“We were pretty down after that Winnipeg loss. We kind of knew that was the game we had to win in Winnipeg,” Arvidsson said after the game, while also mentioning that getting help from the Jets was key.

“They lost two games I think, right after that, so we kind of stayed in it. After that we just kept battling, winning three games, the last three games of the season. We’ve been battling pretty hard. Tonight was one of those examples, last game too, we were down 2-0 and just kept going and got back in the game.”

Following that loss in Winnipeg, the Preds chances at winning the Central were very slim. In fact, at one point, it looked more likely the the Preds would finish in 3rd place than anywhere else.

But a little bit of luck never hurt anyone. And the Preds found themselves playing well and finally getting a little bit of luck at the same time.

After the game, Peter Laviolette also mentioned the low point following the Winnipeg loss when talking about what the team was battling for late in the season.

“We’ve been talking about fighting for something. We were in the middle of February and just started talking that maybe we should start fighting for the Central Division. And eleven days ago, there probably weren’t a lot of odds in our favor just because we didn’t have the tiebreakers, we had games out on other teams, we were behind by a point or two. So things weren’t looking our way.

But a stretch run of 8-2-1 I think it was in eleven games and here we are.”

Dante Fabbro’s first NHL goal

The second moment that I think sparked the Predators to clinch the division was last night’s first Preds goal.

Down 2-0, the Predators were in a bind. Cam Ward was playing out of his mind and the Blackhawks were playing fast and loose. The Preds were getting a ton of shots on goal, but Ward was stopping everything.

And then Dante Fabbro, a 20-year-old rookie who just joined the team a week ago, scored his first NHL goal.

Finally breaking through on Cam Ward was important. When you have a hot goalie, sometimes it just becomes a mental thing trying to get one past him. But here was a rookie defenseman stepping up and placing a perfect shot over his left shoulder.

The home crowd erupted at that point and all of a sudden the Preds surged again. Soon after that, Filip Forsberg tied the game with a massive slapshot goal from the right point. Then later, Viktor Arvidsson gave the Preds a 3-2 lead with his record breaking 34th goal this season.

Eventually the Preds would win 5-2 with additional goals by Colton Sissons and Nick Bonino, but it was that first goal by Fabbro that really got the Preds on track.

And when you think about the fact that Dante Fabbro is the youngest member of this team and how he also grew up a Preds fan, that makes last night all the more memorable.

Playoff Picture is Set

With the regular season concluded, the Predators now know their first round playoff matchup: the Dallas Stars. That series will reportedly begin on Wednesday at Bridgestone Arena.

Meanwhile the Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues will have to play each other on in the first round. This is good news for the Preds. If they escape the first round, they will have to face one of those teams and not both.

In the marathon that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs, you look for every advantage you can get. Not having to play both teams that are your worst matchup is a huge advantage for the Predators.

— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —