Devastated by injuries, having trouble finding offense, looking outside the top 8, the Nashville Predators were looking around trying to find some desperately needed answers. The Predators were mired in a 4 game losing streak and just couldn’t nail down exactly what the problem was.
This was February 26th
Then came one of the most beautiful Sunday afternoons the Nashville Predators have ever seen. The Columbus Blue Jackets came into Nashville only 2 points behind the Predators in the chase for the top 8. Columbus, winners of 8 of their past 11, were coming in hot, while the Predators had lost their last 4 and had scored only 4 goals in their past 4 games while being shut out twice.
The Bridgestone Arena was packed and the fans needed a huge win to lift them up and keep their hope and faith alive. As the game started, the fans were loud and proud, but you could definitely tell there was a tad bit of nervousness in the air, as we all knew what a loss in this game would do to this team at this juncture of the season. Then, the Jackets tally on a power play with about 5 minutes left in the 2nd, effectively sucking a lot of the energy out of the building. The Predators, who to date are 6-15-0 when trailing after the second period, could see their season slowly slipping out of their hands. But…Shea Weber scored on the powerplay 2 minutes in. Jon Blum scored 5 minutes later. David Legwand sealed the deal with 1:35 left on the clock.
When the clock struck 0:00 in the 3rd period and the Predators skated off with 2 huge points, their season still hanging in the balance, one particular question had definitely been answered: This team knows how to win a game when they absolutely have to.
Fast forward 30 days
The Predators are in the midst of a 6 game win streak and have gone 9-2-2 in their past 13 games (all in the month of March), and they now sit 1 point out of 4th place and 5 points out of the division lead with 6 games remaining. Nashville has outscored their opposition 39-28 in this span and has the 6th best PK% in the league. Pekka Rinne has risen up to be one of the top goaltenders in the league and the Predators defense is now ranked 3rd in total goals allowed in the entire season and 2nd in Goals Allowed per Game.
So what changed?
I believe the Nashville Predators have finally found their true identity. On any given night, against ANY given opponent, this Nashville Predators team can win every single game if they play the way they have been playing. When Pekka Rinne is in net and the 5 guys on the ice are supporting him, this team is LITERALLY unstoppable. Case in point, the past 6 games:
Boston, Detroit, Buffalo, Edmonton, Anaheim, Dallas
All but one of these teams are in the playoffs or in the playoff hunt (2 of these are division leaders). The Predators have systematically dispatched every one of them, maybe not easily, but they are finding ways to win games. Finding ways to win games…that’s something I previously couldn’t say about the Predators. Either the Predators would outright win a game or lose it, but never in their past were they a team that would find a way to win a game that almost couldn’t be won.
Flash back 4 years ago.
Saturday, March 31st 2007: The Nashville Predators NEEDED a win over the Dallas Stars to lock up their first ever division title and secure the #1 seed in the playoffs and a matchup with the Calgary Flames, a team they had dominated in the regular season going 3-0-1. The Predators lost this game 4-2, giving Detroit the division title again, and giving the Predators a date with the San Jose Sharks, where they were effectively sent home after only 5 games for the second year in a row. A 110 point season, the best in club history, destroyed in 9 days. The Red Wings went on to beat Calgary and San Jose before losing to eventual Cup-winners The Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Finals.
During the course of that regular season, both the Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators were tied with 101 points with 7 games left to play. The Wings went on to go 5-0-2 for the remainder while the Predators went 4-2-1.
The team couldn’t win some of the close ones, got a little hurt by injuries at the end of the year, and just kind of fell apart
2011: With 7 games left in the regular season, the Detroit Red Wings have 97 points. The Nashville Predators have 6 games remaining with 92 points. The Wings need FOUR wins to lock the division title, that is all they need. However, anything under 4 wins makes the central division a crapshoot for the Predators or Blackhawks to try and take it.
The Predators have unbelievable goaltending, are starting to pick up offense from a collection of likely and non-likely sources, players are starting to turn on their “playoff” modes, they have some of the best young leadership in the entire league…and players are getting healthy. For the FIRST time in a playoff year, the Predators are getting healthy come playoff time, NOT the other way around. Never before have the Nashville Predators gone into a playoff series with great team chemistry and a healthy squad (not counting season-ending injuries).
Just taking a look at this team right now, they are getting production from all 4 lines right now, including a combination of players that has rarely worked in the past: Martin Erat, David Legwand, and Joel Ward. They are getting stellar defensive efforts from their blue-line squadron, INCLUDING much better support from Kevin Kline and Shane O’Brien (including what could have been a game-saving block from #55 in Saturday’s game against Dallas). And they have one of the top goaltending tandems in the league with Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback.
What’s to stop this team from winning the division, albeit this late in the season. Can’t there be a repeat of 2007?
What’s to stop this team from winning their first playoff series? They “let Chicago off the hook” last year, as Barry Trotz said, it doesn’t look like they’ll be letting ANYONE off the hook this year as they know how much they want it and they know how bad it felt losing what could have possibly been the franchise’s first playoff series win last year.
What’s to stop this team from winning it all?
The only thing the Nashville Predators have standing in their way is themselves. They have the fans to support them, as they always will, and the pieces are finally falling in place. Now is the year to make their first deep run in the playoffs and give this city a chance at it’s first professional sports championship