In case you hadn’t heard, the Nashville Predators are underdogs in their first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes. Okay, that was clearly facetious because of course, you’re probably aware. The narrative of the Predators being the inferior team has dominated the storylines since they sealed their berth in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Unfortunately, while hearing that the Predators are outmatched for the one-hundredth time may be grating on the players and fans, there has been no evidence that it’s any less true.
The Predators will return home in a 2-0 hole, after dropping Game 2 in Raleigh by a final score of 3-0. A frustrated John Hynes sat in front of the media, fending off valid questions regarding his team’s performance. After seemingly not liking a question regarding squandering a chance to capitalize on Juuse Saros’ unbelievable performance, Hynes simply responded, “I thought our team played well.”
Putting aside the fact that Hynes truly dodged fair questions, he made it clear that for the most part, he was pleased with the game. But obviously, that performance still wasn’t good enough for them to earn the split, which means the Predators must find another level in games three and four if they are to make a series of this first-round matchup. Against the division’s number one team, they will need all the help they can get, and maybe friendlier confines can help tilt the table.
A long time ago, Ken Hitchcock, the head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets at the time, compared Bridgestone Arena to a Roman Colosseum, explaining the daunting feeling brought on by having to face the Predators with their crowd fully behind them.
Ryan Ellis, who has been with the Predators since 2011, knows all too well what a raucous crowd can do for the home team. “The more we get back, the louder it gets,” Ellis said about the increased fan allowance following the 3-1 win on May 8. “It’s amazing what their chant and what their energy can really do for this team.”
The Predators’ faithful will have the opportunity to increase the decibel readings, as the attendance will be larger than it’s ever been this season. The arena will be allowed to operate at 70% capacity, which is approximately a little more than 12,000 fans. It may not be as loud as the Roman Colosseum-like crowds of the past, but they will surely strive to create a similar atmosphere and the Predators will need it.
Good Riddance, PNC Arena…for Now
For as well as Hynes thought they played, the Predators showed poor puck management at times during Game 2. Sloppy passes and turnovers led to odd-man rushes and breakaways. Having Sebastian Aho bearing down with no one to beat but the goalie is not something you want to test too often. It was Saros who kept them in the game when the Predators were clearly outclassed.
To be fair, Hynes did admit the power-play was an issue for them in Game 2, going 0-for-7. The Predators were handed a golden opportunity to get back in the series. How many times does a team get seven cracks at the man-advantage in one playoff game? It’s not often, so on the rare occasion it does happen, you need to make it count for something.
After that May 8 win mentioned earlier, Josi spoke to the power of the fans almost willing a goal. “I can’t tell you how many times the crowd did that [give a standing ovation during a T.V timeout] and we score right after,” the captain said.
In two games, the Predators have managed just two goals, have gone 0-for-10 on the power-play, and are surrendering an average of four goals per game.
It sounds super negative, but there’s only so much the fans can do. It may be hard for supporters to get on their feet and cheer on the team if stats continue to be as grim as those just listed. You have to give people something to cheer about, it really is a two-way street. We’ve heard so many times that the players feed off of the crowd’s energy, well guess what, the fans feed off of the players’ performance.
Following the Game 2 loss, Ryan Johansen expressed how much he is looking forward to returning home to draw from a home-ice advantage. “I know in the back of my head, I’m excited to just get back to Bridgestone and get in front of our fans,” the centerman said. “The most fans we’ve had in over a year. I’m just looking forward to that. We know what our crowd can do to our club and the energy it can bring to us.”
Anyone who has witnessed the atmosphere inside the Bridgestone Arena can attest to how intense it can be. But the players cannot expect it to be the magic formula. The Hurricanes finished the regular season as the eighth-best road team, compiling a record of 16-9-3. Their elite game travels too. Nashville needs to match the play of the Hurricanes and the fans may be able to push them over the top, but they can’t do all the lifting.
The Predators have never been able to win a series after losing Game 1, so dropping the first two has put them in a really bad spot. Only the players can really know how it feels to ride the emotions of the crowd and if it does give them an “extra boost” – as Josi predicted it will after the Game 2 loss – it will be put to the test starting May 22.
Smashville’s Seventh Man
Home ice has always been a topic of conversation, but there have also been debates regarding how important it is. When you possess a superior team, confidence comes from having the better players. The home comforts are usually just a bonus. However, with Nashville, that’s not quite the case.
More often than not, since their inaugural season, the Predators have been fighting above their weight class, especially in the postseason. There was a brief window in the Predators’ history where they were truly considered as contenders. 2017-2020 was seemingly their sweet spot. But for the most part throughout their existence, they’ve always been seen as an underdog. So, having the crowd behind them, possibly providing that extra confidence, may mean a little more to them than other teams.
The Smashville Standing Ovation, as it’s become known as, is all the more special because of the Predators’ identity – the scrappy, often over-looked team with something to prove against the might of many opposing NHL powerhouses. For them to be able to stand toe-to-toe with the best is appreciated by the fans and it comes across in their hollering.
Well, they find themselves back in that familiar environment again. Where that Nashville versus the world mentality rings loud and clear within the confines of the Bridgestone Arena and the Music City.
If the Hurricanes were a prizefighter, then the Predators have seemingly been labeled their sparring partner and nothing more. But it’s crazy what a little self-belief and the hype of a championship-starved crowd can do to impact the result of a game.
The Predators have their backs against the wall, but luckily for them, they’re now heading back to Nashville. And as they say, you’re not in trouble until you lose at home.