After the Predators dropped games against Pittsburgh (road) and San Jose (home/shootout), their losing streak hit four.
Despite backing into a playoff position, the memory of Nashville being one of the hottest teams in the NHL had begun to look like one of those objects in the rearview mirror that no longer looked as close as they once may have been.
With their playoff hopes dangling by a very slim thread, the visiting Colorado Avalanche returned to Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday, with the hopes of keeping those chances alive. The Avs had been recent guests in Smashville, netting a 4-3 win just eight days prior, in a game that saw Peter Laviolette pull Pekka Rinne from the nets for the first time this season, only to have the team lose on the lone goal given up by relief netminder Carter Hutton.
Last night, the Predators grabbed a quick 2-0 lead in the first period of the game on goals by Colin Wilson (just his 6th of the season) and Filip Forsberg (an incredible stick between the legs trick shot that will be the lead goal on NHL highlight reels this week.)
Colorado got on the scoreboard late in the first, and added the tying goal late in the second. It took just thirty-six seconds for the Preds to regain the lead in the third period on a beautiful Mike Fisher goal, but the pesky Avalanche, with those post-season hopes barely flickering, managed to tie the game 3-3 about a minute and a half later.
Just over two minutes after the exhuberant Preds crowd had been silenced, they erupted again as Craig Smith was able to beat Avs netminder Semyon Varlamov with his 21st of the season, and Nashville hung on to the 4-3 victory, sealing Colorado’s fate and effectively ending their season hopes of participating in the post-season.
The second wildcard slot (the Preds have the first) now officially belongs to Minnesota, who, will now face either Dallas, or St. Louis, pending the winner of the Central Division.
Both the Kings and Ducks played last night and only further confused the playoff picture. The Ducks grabbed a single point in a 2-1 overtime loss to Winnipeg, while the Kings, facing a regulation loss vs. Calgary, pulled their goaltender and got the equalizer with just thirty-six seconds remaining, and fired home the winner forty seconds into overtime. Both teams now have 99 points in the Pacific Division, though Anaheim does hold a game in hand against Los Angeles.
The Kings’ final two games of the season are at home this Thursday against the Ducks, and Saturday against Winnipeg. Anaheim has three road games, with their all-important game against the Kings, followed by weekend contests against Colorado and a season-ending Sunday makeup game in Washington.
The Predators playoff tune-up features a final home game on Thursday vs. the Arizona Coyotes, and a Saturday stay in Dallas against the Central Division leading Stars, although by Saturday the St. Louis Blues could have leapfrogged the Stars in an exciting finish in our division!
Whatever happens between now and the start of the post-season mid-next week, one thing is certain; only one team will win sixteen games and hoist the Stanley Cup about seven weeks later, and the Nashville Predators are optimistic they can make a solid run, despite having to escape a first round matchup that on paper seems daunting.
Pick your poison, Nashville. Do you want a team (Los Angeles) that has won two Cups over the past four seasons, or do you want a team (Anaheim) that currently has the league’s best defense, power play and penalty kill?
Anaheim was a team that began the season with just ONE victory in their first ten games, and reeled off four wins before losing seven of their next ten. In fact, we might blame their hot streak on Santa Claus, as the Ducks record on Christmas Day was just 12-15-6 and were ranked 29th out of 30 NHL teams. Since then the team has gone 32-9-5 and, as stated, find themselves in a battle with LA for that Pacific Division crown.
Whatever fate befalls the Preds, they absolutely have some reasons for optimism. Forsberg, Smith and James Neal are coming into the playoffs on hot streaks. Defensemen Roman Josi and Shea Weber were consistently hot offensively all season long, and after a brief injury, Ryan Ellis has returned to the lineup and slotted back into the second-unit on the power play.
In goal, questions about Rinne’s season have been of concern throughout the year, but the Finnish netminder has been known to save his best work for when it matters most, and Preds fans, it’s about to matter most for the entire organization!
As Preds public address announcer Paul McCann says before every game, “It’s time to get loud, it’s time to get proud… IT’S TIME TO PLAY HOCKEY.”
By next week the team plays playoff hockey and you’ll catch games three and four of the Predators first round matchup, be it LA or Anaheim, right here at Bridgestone Arena, and right here on these pages.