When the Nashville Predators went on the road after their 6-2 loss to the Florida Panthers, things looked pretty bleak in terms of the playoff picture. In fact, we were looking at what would be needed for a rebuild.
The team pressed on, despite losing much of their key players, had to embark on an eight-game road trip, and had to take on the defending Western Conference champions (Dallas Stars), the reigning Stanley Cup champions (Tampa Bay Lightning), and two of the hottest teams in the NHL (Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers). Coming into the trip, the Predators didn’t have a great record against any of these teams, with a 1-11 record (only win against the Panthers in OT).
The trip started with a 4-3 win in the shootout over the Dallas Stars. The highlight of the game was a massive stick save by Pekka Rinne on Joe Pavelski that helped keep Nashville in the game and was the catalyst for the Preds to get two points to start off the trip. Also, though, this was the game where the captain of the team, Roman Josi, would be out of the game and out of the lineup with an injury.
After the win to start, they took the show to Raleigh, where they fell to the Hurricanes, 3-2 in overtime (their first OTL of the season); while nobody likes to lose, to me, this is where I think things really start to turn around. The play of Jeremy Davies and Alexandre Carrier was especially impressive in that game, and the young guys really inspired the team to perform better and show more effort. Even in losses, there were bright spots in that game. But that good feeling evaporated quickly when the Preds fell again to the ‘Canes, 5-1.
After getting swept in Raleigh, they went down to Tampa for a two-gamer with the Bolts. The first game was a repeat of the previous four matchups, a 6-3 loss before finally getting the second game on a Monday afternoon by a final count of 4-1, giving them a 2-2-1 record on the trip with three games to go. They went across Alligator Alley to Sunrise, Fla. for a two-game set with the Panthers.
Nashville won 2-1 before falling 2-0. They finally ended the trip where it all began, with another 4-3 shootout win over the Dallas Stars, closing out the road trip with much success, as well as the return of the captain Josi. With a record of 4-3-1 on the trip, and after the game with Dallas, they were within four points of the Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Discover Central Division.
Since the win over Dallas, Nashville has been the hottest team in the NHL, winning five straight and six of the last seven, and have moved away from rebuilding talk to competing for a playoff spot. (from ‘Tough call as trade deadline looms: Do you give up on Nashville Predators’ season? | Estes,’ Tennessean, 03/26/2021) It has been a replicate of the last several seasons, where the team has had slow start to the season and then has made a late surge to become a dark horse in the playoffs. Other Central Division teams have been on a whole different level all season, but it is also about who gets hot at the right time.
Not only have guys started to get healthy again, and you have had inspired play from the guys who have stepped in the roles that they needed to be in. (from ‘Nashville Predators suddenly in NHL playoff contention. Here’s why,’ Tennessean, 03/29/2021) With great goaltender play from both Rinne during the trip and Juuse Saros since his return from the injured list, it has been a recipe for Nashville to make the noise to make themselves contenders again. They do have to keep in mind that Chicago is still there along with Columbus, and Dallas does have four games in hand as well.
If Saros (who was named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week) can continue this hot surge over the final 20 games and not revert to how he was in the first eight games, then Nashville definitely will be a team that is dangerous. Also, with the bodies starting to heal up and the team getting back to full strength, the possibilities are endless in terms of how far they can go. It also seems like the lineups have finally stabilized, which was a problem for a long time this season with John Hynes, but that seems to be a thing of the past now.
With 20 games left in the season and the Preds now clawing back into the playoff fight, can they continue this surge that was created from the successful road trip to get in the playoffs? Or will they lose the steam and momentum towards the finish line? Either way, look back at this very road trip to see what happens.
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