The Nashville Predators’ potentially historic year came to a close on Saturday night. In the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Predators lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.
Though losing in the first round is disappointing in itself, what makes it more frustrating is that the Predators were the better team. Nashville led for 138:46 compared to Chicago’s 42:18, scored 21 goals and allowed 18, shot more and had better special teams (PP – 27.3%, PK – 84.2%). In Games 1, 2 and 4, Chicago did not ever have a lead. They also forced Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville to make two goalie switches in the series.
Despite that, the Predators will be the team golfing first this off-season.
How Did Nashville Lose?
The most eye-glaring part of the Predators’ game as of late has been the inability to play a full sixty minutes. Nashville’s Achilles’ heel in the first three games of the series were second periods having been outscored 7-2 and outshot 35-28.
Games 1, 4 and 6 are what will keep the Preds up at night.
In Game 1, Nashville went to the first intermission with a 3-0 lead. A defeated Corey Crawford saw his night come to an end, and Scott Darling entered the game in relief. It sparked the Blackhawks as they answered with 3 goals of their own tie the game in the second period. Nashville, who were outshot 11-4 in the second, played on their heels while Chicago mounted the comeback. Darling’s 42 saves and Duncan Keith’s double-overtime winner put the Blackhawks ahead 1-0 in the opening game of the series.
If losing in double-overtime was not heart-breaking enough, Game 4 may have done it for you. In the longest game in Predators’ history, they lost 3-2 in triple-overtime after 101:00 of play. With a lead entering the third period, Nashville went into its usual shell, being outshot 12-5, and Brandon Saad scored to force overtime.
After watching the opening twelve minutes of Game 6, it would be hard to believe that this game was going to be Nashville’s final one of the year. Unfortunately, they blew two two-goal leads in the first period, which ultimately led to their demise. After allowing three goals to put Nashville up 3-1 11:16 into the game, Crawford returned to the crease in relief of Darling.
Once more, the Preds played on their heels and generated abysmal scoring opportunities. For the first 11:16 of the game, they shot twelve times on Darling. In the final 48:44 of the game, they had just thirteen shots on Crawford.
Nashville lost Game 6 and the series on a Duncan Keith game-winner late in the third period.
Nashville was plagued with injuries to a few key players. Eric Nystrom, who missed the final 17 games of the regular season with a lower-body injury, did not play during the series. The left-winger is a critical part of Nashville’s penalty-kill alongside Paul Gaustad.
Second line center Mike Fisher missed Games 2, 3 and 4 after leaving early in the second period of Game 1 with a lower-body injury. Fisher’s on-ice presence is invaluable with his key face-off wins, physicality and scoring touch. Nashville’s center depth ran thin without Fisher. Third-line center Matt Cullen moved to the second line as Calle Jarnkrok replaced Cullen.
GIF: another look at when Weber was probably injured pic.twitter.com/Fy4GGLOxU1
— Stephanie Vail (@myregularface) April 18, 2015
The most costly injury for the Preds was losing Shea Weber to a lower-body injury suffered during the second period of Game 2. Nashville ended up winning 6-2, scoring four goals without the captain, which made it feel like everything was going to be fine. However, filling the void of the world’s best defenseman is nearly impossible to do. Roman Josi and new partner Seth Jones had a difficult time slowing down Chicago’s high-powered offense. They each were -5 without Weber in the lineup.
When truly reflecting on the impact Weber’s injury had on the series, the end result could have been a lot worse for the Preds.
Though losing in the first round is never fun, especially after sitting atop the NHL standings for much of the year, the end result is good for the Predators. If Preds fans were told Nashville would make the playoffs but lose in the first round, odds are, many would be okay with that. The Predators have a bright future with head coach Peter Laviolette. Give it time, folks.
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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.