It was a season to remember for the Nashville Predators, but it did not end in climactic fashion. The Predators were obliterated by the San Jose Sharks, 5-0, in Game 7 on Thursday and were eliminated from the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Of the five goals scored on Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne, none were his fault. Rinne’s team in front of him left him out to dry from start to finish. Even the Predators’ top-pairing defensemen, Roman Josi and Shea Weber, had awful nights, as they were on the ice for all goals against.
On the fifth and final goal before being pulled at 3:54 of the third period, Rinne’s frustration showed. Given the circumstances, it was completely understandable.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 13, 2016
“It’s a difficult feeling when you work so hard to get to this point and you realize you’re one step from something that, we haven’t been there,” Rinne said post-game. “You never know how many chances you’re going to get, and that’s the worst feeling. You get older and older and try to take advantage of these opportunities. Right now, it’s a pretty empty feeling.”
The Predators were a win away from reaching the Western Conference Final for the first time in franchise history. For whatever reason, however, the SAP Center in San Jose has been their Achilles’ heel in playoff history. The Preds are 0-8 all-time in road playoff games against the Sharks.
Though Rinne’s 2.48 goals-against average and .908 save percentage this postseason was not attractive, he actually played quite well. In all seven of Nashville’s victories, he was a reason — if not the reason — they won.
Rinne had no chance to put the team on his back in Game 7, and another hopeful playoff run ended in disappointment.
Rinne will turn 34 on Nov. 3 and his window of opportunity to win a Stanley Cup is beginning to shut. Knowing the circumstances ahead of time, Preds general manager David Poile constructed a team capable of winning the Stanley Cup this year. The problem was executing, however.
Filip Forsberg, the team’s leading scorer in the regular season, had just one goal in his last 13 games and was a minus-11 in the playoffs. Craig Smith scored a mere goal and an assist. Calle Jarnkrok registered a mere assist. Mike Ribeiro had a minimal impact, as well.
A few of Nashville’s top players were not filling their shoes, and it ultimately resulted in yet another bitter end to the year.
Rinne is under contract through the 2018-19 season. With the current corps and upcoming crop of prospects looking to make the jump to the NHL, the Predators are in good shape to contend next season. Poile can remain confident with the current squad, or he can make a major move that could push his team to another level.
Whatever the case may be, Poile needs to look for success now rather than later because his goalie is running out of gas. He deserves a Stanley Cup.
Colin Fitts is a Nashville Predators staff writer and is a credentialed media member of the Chicago Wolves. From Nashville, Tennessee, Colin majors in journalism and public relations at Columbia College Chicago. Follow him on Twitter, @FittsTHW. Email: 22fitts [at] gmail [dot] com.