By Joel Silverberg / @JoelSilverberg
After a cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Finals a year ago followed up by a season of dominance the Nashville Predators could see their year come to an abrupt end in the second round at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets Monday night.
An upset? Sure, but these are the best two teams in the NHL meeting in the second round. It should also be noted that only eight teams in NHL history have won both the President’s Trophy and the Stanley Cup in the same season. The league’s playoff format is structured to potentially see matchups like these earlier than regular season records would indicate. Winnipeg had the second-best record in the NHL this year, but if it finishes off Nashville the Jets won’t have the benefit of home-ice advantage in the conference finals against Vegas.
The Predators have overcome a 3-2 series deficit before and they’ve already scored a win in Manitoba during this series. A second round exit would be disappointing and should be viewed as such. Nobody would argue that, but it’s been the way the series has played out to this point that will be tough to swallow in Smashville this summer should the season end before the middle of this week.
Connor Hellebuyck stood on his head in game one. Chalk that up to great goaltending for Winnipeg. The Predators came back to win game two. Nashville choked a three-goal lead on the road in game three and unraveled out of nowhere in the middle of the second period in game five at home.
The on-ice personnel has been head scratching. Pekka Rinne can’t shoulder all the blame, but too often he hasn’t looked like a potential Vezina Trophy winner. Norris Trophy finalist P.K. Subban and the rest of Nashville’s defensemen have been well below par throughout the postseason.
However, the past calendar year has given Nashville more to be thankful for than many thought possible 14 months ago. If the Preds are unable to overcome the Jets there will still be a lot of franchise firsts to admire once the dust settles after an unfortunate finish.
First, the Predators became the first eight-seed to sweep a one seed. Pekka Rinne went into Chicago and shut out the Blackhawks twice. Chicago, looking for its fourth title in the past decade only managed three goals in the series. It was also the first time Nashville had beaten Chicago in the postseason. The team that had been the measuring stick in the Central Division for so long could finally be checked off the box for the Preds.
Nashville followed that up by making its first trip to the conference finals with a six-game series win over St. Louis. In the franchise’s first time past the second round the Predators won twice in Anaheim before beating the Ducks in six games.
We all know what happened next. Nashville fell short in its first visit to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Predators lost in six games to the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Two of the losses for Nashville were tie games in the third period. Despite the loss Nashville raised its first banner at Bridgestone Arena as the defending Western Conference champions.
Fast forward to this season. Nashville won its division and the President’s Trophy. Both franchise firsts. Ten years ago Nashville was still looking for its first playoff series win.
Anything short of a return trip to the finals would be a disappointment for Nashville, but that’s where General Manager David Poile has taken this organization. Celebrating playoff appearances and first round series wins are a thing of the past. This staff, its players and its fans understand that winning is now a more than reasonable expectation.
So if Nashville loses tonight go ahead and be upset, Preds fans, but remember where Smashville came from.
And be excited for where its going.