A lone Predators fan after Game 5 in Phoenix
Today is Wednesday, May 9th. What would have been the day of Game 6 against Phoenix in the Western Conference Semifinals is instead a day where Nashville Predators fans have had a little over 24 hours to sit and ponder as to why there team is eliminated and the Western Conference Finals will begin without them.
Fans, critics, media, and just about everyone who was engrossed with the Predators are trying to find something to blame, something that they can put their finger on who or what to blame for what can only truly be coined as a disappointing finish to such a bright season.
All of us can sit here and point at many different items of concern: Whether it was the missed opportunity in Game 1 where Nashville had countless opportunities to put the game away before losing in overtime, or when Radulov/A. Kostitsyn went out till 4am late that same evening causing them to be suspended for Game 3 and scratched for Game 4, or perhaps it was being shutout for over 160 minutes from the midpoint of period 1 of Game 3 to period 3 of Game 5?
Ultimately? I think the real reason Nashville is planning their summer early is because Phoenix found the way to beat Nashville. Not just beat them for a few minutes here or there, but beat them soundly for 4 wins in a 7-game series (only taking them 5 tries to get there). Regardless of what anyone says, in my opinion it wasn’t Mike Smith that was the problem for the Predators.
Don’t get me wrong, Smith had a tremendous series and made key saves when his team needed them. However, he was beatable, and Nashville proved it earlier in the series before the Coyotes defense locked the Predators down. Nashville had MORE than their fair share of opportunities as well, missing out on countless open spots to deposit the puck in the back of the net, whether it was shooting wide, hitting a post, or not even getting the shot all the way to the net because of an opposing player/stick in the way.
That’s another thing, boy oh boy did the lanes close quickly for Nashville when they DID have a chance to score. As the series went on, the Predators would get multiple chances of free space in the offensive zone to fire a puck towards Mike Smith, but the window of opportunity to get a shot through traffic (with a certain lane they could fire into) would close in only a fraction of a second. Predators players would get a pass, try to settle the puck, and fire a shot on goal, however by the time they had settled the puck the lane had closed.
And if it wasn’t the lanes closing on Nashville, it was a stick/body in the way of the shot. It seemed, at times, that Phoenix had 10 players on the ice forechecking the Predators for every second of the game. Now, that wasn’t really the case, but Dave Tippet taught his players to come in waves, to never relent or buckle against constant pressure, and to capitalize on the few mistakes of a sound defensive team. You can only give full marks to Phoenix for playing a great series and doing exactly what it took to beat Nashville.
Nashville played great hockey, however even the great teams make mistakes. When that small mistake was made by the Predators, Phoenix was oh-so eager to put it past Pekka Rinne and into the back of the net. Did Rinne have his best series? No, but you could easily argue he was just as good as Mike Smith was, if not better. Rinne had to make more dramatic saves just to keep the Predators afloat against the Coyotes and give them a chance to win, the only problem was Nashville couldn’t provide the run support to back up their all-world goaltender. 9 goals on 159 shots throughout the series surely isn’t going to cut it and it didn’t.
You could tell this was going to be a rough series after losing such a Nashville-dominated Game 1 in overtime off a flukey play, but to drop it in 5 games? I don’t think any Nashville fan (or national media pundit) expected that to happen to a team that was heavily favored to at least make the Western Conference Finals. But now, the Predators find themselves in a position that no GM in the rest of the NHL envies: What to do with 15 free agents (restricted and unrestricted) coming up this off-season, including arguably the two biggest names on the blueline in Weber and Suter.
We’ll start diving into the topic of Free Agents and what I believe will happen here in a day or so, but boy was this not how any of us wanted to start the second week of May. Instead of season ticket holders tearing out a ticket for what would have been Game 6 tonight from their Stanley Cup Playoff ticket book, they’re instead throwing them out to try and remove the pain of what could have potentially been Nashville’s best chance so far at bringing Lord Stanley’s Cup to Music City.