2 points is all that separated the Nashville Predators and Columbus Blue Jackets in the standings.
Nashville had only won 4 times in their past 15 games while Columbus had only LOST 4 times in their past 15 games.
Nashville and Columbus were going in opposite directions. The Predators couldn’t find normalcy in their play while the Blue Jackets were looking forward to what would be their second playoff birth in their 10 year history.
60 minutes later, both teams would unexpectedly go in completely different directions. Nashville would end up scoring 3 goals in the final frame of the game and take what could have been the two biggest points of the 2010-2011 regular season. However, the loss that Columbus took can be summed up best by their captain, Rick Nash:
“We’ve lost a lot here”
Granted, he was talking more about the number of games straight that Columbus had lost in Nashville (now stands at 16 going into Friday’s matchup), however those encompass what would happen to Columbus afterwards.
Seven straight losses and three…THREE total wins in their next twenty games. Columbus, who had come into this season with a young, but potentially powerful, team and a first year head coach, will be starting their vacations on Sunday for the ninth time in ten years.
What started as a promising season with the hopes of a great fanbase riding on their efforts, the Blue Jackets have yet again been hurt by inconsistent play, injuries at the wrong time to key players, and what can only be described as a huge goaltending let down. Steve Mason was supposed to be what Pekka Rinne is to the Predators, a world-class Vezina-worthy goaltender. Lest we not forget that he beat out Pekka for the Calder Trophy 2 years ago. Yet, Mason’s third full season in the NHL has been just as frustrating as his sophomore struggles last year. The Steve Mason that Blue Jackets fans had HOPED to see full time has only showed brief glimpses of what he delivered in his rookie season.
I still believe the firing of Ken Hitchcock will come back to haunt the Jackets. In 3.5 years with Columbus, Hitch had compiled a 126-123-36 record with the team, but was fired midway into his fourth season with them. Whatever the TRUE reasons to him being fired were, I think Hitchcock gave the Jackets their best hope to turn their proud franchise into a fully fledged contender and not the team that has been a whipping-boy for a lot of teams in the NHL (including the Nashville Predators).
On the other end of the table, you had a newly-reinvigorated Predators team that would go on to lose only THREE games in regulation over the next 17 games. There were a lot of questions that were growing in Pred Nation, starting out as whispers and beginning to gain steam from there, however over the next month Predators fans would learn that there really wasn’t any need to question the direction of the team, but to try and figure out who they would get in the first round and if this would be the first year they would taste the second, or perhaps later, round of the playoffs.
Pekka Rinne has been the BACKBONE of this Nashville Predators team. Although his win-loss record may not necessarily show how good he has been, everyone knows differently. Without Rinne, Nashville may be sitting in the same boat with Columbus right now. He can make some of the most highlight reel saves and at the same time make it look extremely easy at that.
Take Rinne and throw in 9 double digit goal scorers (5 of those over 40 points so far), the new captainship of Shea Weber, and the mythical powers of coach Barry Trotz, and you have a Nashville Predators team that will be making the playoffs (unless there is an epic collapse in the next two games) for their sixth time in their 12 year history. Out of all of the latest expansion teams (Minnesota, Columbus, Atlanta, Nashville), Nashville has probably been the most successful in terms of on-ice play and return trips to the playoffs.
I, personally, understand the conversation about Dan Bylsma taking the Jack Adams trophy this year after losing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and still leading his team to a top spot in the Eastern Conference, but take a look at this:
Barry Trotz doesn’t have a Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Barry Trotz has NEVER had that type of raw young talent (that hasn’t illegally signed a contract with a different league during his NHL contract). Barry Trotz has never coached a household name in the NHL. However Barry Trotz, year after year after year, gets the job done and gets this team to the playoffs. His game preparation is uncanny and he commands a level of respect that most men could only dream of achieving. Trotz has yet to win a Jack Adams trophy and has only received one nomination, as he seems to get dwarfed by some miraculous story year in and year out, instead of what the real story is:
Trotz could legitimately take the most rag-tag bunch of players, throw in a couple of season-ending injuries, and still scrape up an extremely competitive team that can beat any team in the NHL on any given night
What’s more worthy of a Jack Adams trophy? A coach who saves his team from an epic collapse after losing his two star players or a coach who helped save his team from re-location, because without the effort of Barry Trotz, the Nashville Predators wouldn’t be able to deliver the on-ice product they currently have and I can almost guarantee you that our attendance would look a lot like Atlanta or Phoenix. Barry Trotz does it year in and year out and it’s become second nature to him. It’s time he gets a trophy for it, however if he doesn’t it won’t change very much.
As Columbus comes into Nashville tomorrow night for the Predators home finale, it’s amazing to look at and see the records of both teams in the last month and what 30 days can do for a team, good or bad.
The Blue Jackets have a proud and tough franchise, however they’re off-season begins shortly. Nashville, though? Their season is just beginning.