Get your jerseys and terrible towels ready, Nashville Predators fans, your team is heading to the postseason! For several weeks the final spot in the Discover Central Division was been up for grabs. At one point, it seemed the Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators had a realistic chance at a postseason berth; however, the Predators claimed it with a win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday.
If you look at the standings there is an interesting difference that my colleague, Pete Bauer, noticed. When you examine the Predators’ season and compare it to the Stars — who narrowly missed the playoffs by four points — the difference between the postseason seems to be post-regulation games. If your team is playing past 60 minutes, they need to be able to close out a game, whether it’s playing 3-on-3 or the shootout. Every win the Predators had over the Stars was achieved in extra time. First, let’s examine the season record.
Predator’s Record Against the Stars
The division rivals saw each other eight times, and Nashville’s record against Dallas was 5-3-0. The teams faced-off twice in January, and both decisions led to four points for the Stars, including an impressive 7-0 victory on Jan. 22, 2021. They did not see each other in February, and the three meetings in March were decided in extra time, each one ending in favor of the Predators.
Two games were played in April, both at Bridgestone Arena. The first was a regulation win for Dallas, while the other needed a shootout and Nashville earned the extra point. The last time they saw each other was May 1, 2021, and the Predators walked away with another overtime win.
The Predators have played past regulation 12 times this season, five times against the Stars. They beat Dallas three times in the shootout and twice in overtime. Those were 10 crucial points up for grabs that Nashville head coach John Hynes’ team was able to secure. That may not seem like a lot, but at this point, it’s evident how crucial each and every point was.
Examining Post-Regulation Games
This is where the edge went to Nashville. The Stars have 14 overtime losses, the most in the league. Their season record is 22-19-14. The Predators have two, which is tied for the best record in the league. All five times these two teams played each other in extra time, Nashville secured the win.
The Predators have two loser points while the Stars have 14. A loser point gives a team at least one point for forcing a game into extra time. A loser point can come down to one save, one blocked shot, one power-play goal from being a two-point regulation win. There have been teams that have snuck into a final playoff spot due to loser points — ahem the 2012 Los Angeles Kings — but it’s not guaranteed, and why gamble your season away?
A Team’s Resiliency
It is hard to say that the Predators don’t deserve to be in the postseason over Dallas, given how many points the Stars left on the table this season. Nashville has dealt with injuries all season. Veterans like Roman Josi, Filip Forsberg, and Juuse Saros were all out, among many others. The Stars were playing without key players Alexander Radulov and Tyler Seguin. One of these teams was able to fight through their injuries while the other simply couldn’t. Nashville’s rotating door of players quickly adjusted to Hynes’ system of play, and it showed on the ice.
Coach Hynes explained what has changed for his team in the past couple of months: “We didn’t work and compete the way you are now. We haven’t changed any systems. We haven’t changed any tactics. What’s changed is the commitment level that the players have put into what it takes to win… We have an identity that we wanted to have to start the year, which is a hard team to play against, and that’s been more consistent. There’s been more buy-in and belief to the that” (from “Predators-Stars showdown is about more than just a playoff spot – for both teams”, The Athletic, 04/30/2021).
Nashville will face the Hurricanes in the first round of the 2021 Playoffs. The teams will face each other one more time in their regular-season finale on Monday night to set the stage for what’s to come when the playoffs begin. While most would dismiss the Predators advancing to the second round, they have proved they may be down at times but are never fully out.
After the Predators clinched the final spot in the division John Hynes spoke to the media about his team, “I really give a lot of credit to the players. It’s been a tough season. We didn’t get off to the start that we wanted…and these guys have really stepped up, have really committed to playing the game the way that you have to play to win… We can always talk about competitive effort and structure and attention to detail, and to the players’ credit, they’ve done it. We won because we believe in the guys that we have. We feel like we’ve got a really good hockey team, but they’re the guys that have to commit to do it… All the credit goes to those guys for the commitment level and dedication level that they’ve had throughout this process.”
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and covers both the Nashville Predators and New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a co-host of Chicks & Sticks, a weekly Youtube show produced by THW. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettosBlog and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.