The most successful season in Nashville Predators history came to a close last night. The Vancouver Canucks capitalized on early mistakes from the Preds and defeated them 2-1 in front of a sold out Bridgestone Arena.
This game will be remembered for the missed opportunities Nashville had. The Predators allowed two early goals by Mason Raymond and Daniel Sedin ten minutes into the game, as the highly energized and frenzied pace seemed to work against the home team. This lost marks the third time Vancouver has beaten the Preds at home in this series. Nashville was able to get back into the game thanks to improbable goal by David Legwand. The veteran forward scored on a banking shot that hit off of Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo’s leg.
But Nashville wouldn’t be able to get any closer. The Predators couldn’t exploit its power play opportunities as they were just 1-21 in the series while having the man advantage. Nashville had an 18 shotson goal compared to Vancouver’s 9 but the Canucks were able to put 2 of those shots in net.
“I thought we played the first two periods as well as we’ve played all in the playoffs,” coach Barry Trotz said. “The first period was a little disturbing because according to our [calculations] and what we track … we were outchancing them 11-2 and we were losing 2-0.
Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler continued to be the thorn inside of Nashville’s side as he recored assists on both goals for the Canucks. The first would come off a Ryan Suter turnover that happened to be near the net. Kesler zipped a pass to Raymond for a backhanded shot past Pekka Rinne.
This was a disappointing end to an otherwise great season for Nashville. The Predators won their first playoff series in defeating the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, recorded their first playoff victory in overtime, their first playoff road victory, the teams first win in an elimination game (Saturday night in Vancouver, forcing Monday’s game six), and set the single season attendance record averaging 15,562 655 a game at Bridgestone Arena
The Predators ownership is hoping that this season’s momentum rolls over as they now turn their attention to key off-season moves. This includes re-signing their top restricted and unrestricted players. The first player on that list has to be Shea Weber (who had the best beard in the world by the way), earned $4.5 million this season. He could command as much as $7 million and any team (and there will be many) that is willing to make that offer could possibly take him away from the Predators. Goalie Pekka Rinne is locked up for next season but the Preds would be smart to lock up the Vezina trophy finalist up long term. Steve Sullivan is a fan favorite for all of years of fighting injury but with his contract up and his health down as he only played a limited amount of games this year; his time may be up in Nashville. Joel Ward had a breakthrough in the playoffs and his $1.5 million salary will surely increase in the open market as he is an unrestricted free agent. He may have played himself out of Nashville’s price range. The list goes on as Nashville would probably like to lock up Defensemen Ryan Suter up long-term as well.
The challenge the Predators face now is sustaining the success that they have achieved this year. This is a team on the rise as long as their core stays intact with Weber, Suter and Rinne. They have the playoff experience needed to advance in future playoffs. They also have a number of possible impact players in the minors including local favorite Blake Geoffrion, Defensemen Jonathon Blum, and left-winger Taylor Beck. If the Preds can find a way to add some scoring punch to the lineup, that would take this team to a new level. As Ryan Kesler of the Canucks proved, a dynamic scoring wing can pay big dividends in the playoffs. Hopefully the Preds can sign a talented offensive wing to add to an already tenacious defense, but that may be hard to due considering the players that are already in line for new contracts. The salary cap also isn’t Nashville’s friend as they have one of the lower payrolls in the league.
Above all the uncertainty about the Predators, we can all agree that this was a watershed moment type of season for them. They have gained respect from non-believers who never thought a hockey team could survive here and gained numerous new fans with their tough grind it out style. Even though this wasn’t the ending we wanted in Smashville it’s only the beginning of bigger and better things for Hockeytonk.
Congratulations to the Nashville Predators for a great season and we look forward to an even better one next year.