“But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.”
It was a punch in the gut, a sham, a fraud and a deceitful account of what happened to the Nashville Predators. Surely it couldn’t have taken place…in 5 games…where the Predators dreams of even getting to the Western Conference finals and the eventual Stanley Cup finals were dashed and shutout (quite literally) of existence. Poile made all the right moves contrary to any he had sequestered since the NHL-rocking Forsberg trade. It was the first time in franchise history that the Predators finally beat their proverbial measuring stick in the Detroit Red Wings in a playoff series and quite handily at that. But it wasn’t meant to be and the final curtain call and raising of the sticks in salute up above happened in Game 3 of the Phoenix series and for the first time, the Predators didn’t finish their season on home ice.
Through a week of marinating, ruminating and the constant stream of condolence as if our favorite dog died, most Predator fans have been making a solid go of it with the oft-heard phrase in and around Smashville for the past 13 years…”there’s always next year.” But then again, there was something about this year that set everything at odds with how Nashville cheered and jeered for their team. It was a confidence with just the slightest hint of arrogance that permeated through the concrete slabs of Bridgestone Arena and poured out over the multitude of media outlets afforded to fans by the hordes of Predator-based websites and forums.
It wasn’t the same lunch-pail attitude of hard work and perseverance that has led Nashville to being one of the toughest outs for any opponent they face. That sentiment was replaced by the knowledge that Nashville had skill in bunches and the additions of Alexander Radulov, Andrei Kostitsyn, Paul Gaustad and Hal Gill would gloss over any of the ineptitude of the previous years when what Nashville truly needed was a top-notch scorer for that extra push into the playoffs. Health concerns were non-existent as well and some of the players that fought so hard all year to earn their spots on the game-time roster were replaced by the elite level scoring threats and made to watch in the box after serving the team admirably for the entire season.
The maddening part in this whole debacle has been that the one year where Nashville would seemingly need a sniper to fill out the roster, they got beat by a team that played “Predator-style” hockey but played it better than the Predators. Phoenix employed a stifling trap-style defense that collapsed in on itself to get sticks in the lanes and clog any kind of shot from the slot. The perimeter was the only line of sight for the Predators but the defensive pairings for Phoenix along with timely goalkeeping from Mike Smith made it an insurmountable wall of bodies and crease-clearing efforts that Nashville could not figure out.
Phoenix played Nashville exactly the way Nashville played Detroit and it got Phoenix past Chicago and Nashville both to move into the Western Conference Finals against the L.A. Kings. Many who offered their sympathy to me over the past week have heard my reasoning of Nashville’s defeat in very simplistic terms: one was stated in the above paragraph; the second is that Nashville was built at the trade deadline to beat teams like Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis and Vancouver. As James Nelson pointed out in his article, Chicago would have been the better draw for Nashville for a multitude of reasons.
I am sure that many of you will disagree with my assessment about Nashville and their fans being confident with a slight air of arrogance and that’s fine with me. I was possibly one of the main culprits until the end of the series. Like many fans, I never gave up on my Predators and I waited, slightly purple from holding my breath, until the last seconds ticked away on the season hoping that at some point the team that was supposed to go all the way to the top by finally going “All In” was going to show up and take the Coyotes to the cleaners. The reality was that maybe the Phoenix Coyotes were just better: better physically, better chemistry, better coaching and better determination.
I will go away from this season with a heavy heart once again knowing that this will be one of the most critical off-seasons the Predators organization and David Poile have ever faced. I have some great memories though of a team that constantly over-achieves despite what many believe at the start of the season. The Predators were comeback kids this year with totally improbable come-from-behind victories against Detroit and Columbus twice. Pekka Rinne played one of the best January’s of any goaltender and his season lead him to another nod for the Vezina trophy. Weber once again led the Predators as a true captain always will, by example, and earned yet another Norris nod to go with another All-Star appearance. Suter earned his first All-Star appearance this year, too. Craig Smith got invited to participate in the Young Stars competition and looks to be a promising draft pick for the Nashville Predators to go along with outstanding rookie campaigns from Gabriel Bourque, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis.
Most importantly, the memory I will cherish always was that this was my first full season writing about the Nashville Predators. I can’t thank Kris Martel enough for his patience, guidance and support of my writing. He runs a damn good website and is the best editor and friend I could have asked for in this business. Giving me a shot when no one else would has been all I’ve ever dreamed of and I promise to continue throughout the off-season and leading into next year providing the best coverage and the most thought-provoking commentary about the Nashville Predators.
Thanks to all the readers for your continued support of The Predatorial all season. You are the best fans and your insight and suggestions (especially the blatant ones) have helped me become a better writer and researcher.
Stay tuned to The Predatorial for what will be quite an interesting summer filled with rumor, gossip and speculation as Poile, Trotz and the entire Predators organization endeavor to build a team even better than last season.
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