Another one bites the dust!
That’s the way it’s been going for the top seeds in this year’s NHL playoff action. We can now add the Nashville Predators to the list of teams that have been upset by those lower in the standings during the regular season. They join the Tampa Bay Lightning, Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets to suffer the same fate so far. The Predators fell in six games to the Dallas Stars when they were beaten 2-1 in overtime in Texas on April 22nd.
It marks the first time since 2014/15 the Predators haven’t emerged from the first round of the postseason.
To be honest, the Jets and St. Louis Blues were tied with 99 points this year so upset may be a strong word, but then again you could argue the New York Islanders were the underdogs against the Pittsburgh Penguins since Pittsburgh has won three Stanley Cups in the past decade and the Islanders were taking part in the postseason for the first time in three years.
Either way, several of the favorites have been sent reeling so far and Nashville who finished the season six points ahead of the Stars to win the Central Division, is one of them. The Stars will now face the St. Louis Blues in round two in the Western Conference while the Colorado Avalanche will take on either the San Jose Sharks or the Vegas Golden Knights.
This was a relatively close series with Dallas winning the opener 3-2 in Nashville and the Predators rebounding with a 2-1 overtime win to even things up. Nashville then took a lead by winning 3-2 in the first game in Dallas, but were drilled 5-1 in the second game. The series swung with Dallas emerging as 5-3 victors on the road in game five and followed up with their third straight win in game six.
One of the major reasons for the Predators failure was their brutal power-play which went 0 for 15 in the series. The team owned the worst power-play during the regular season at 12.9 per cent by going 33 for 239, but even if they were able to operate at that rate in the playoffs it may have altered their fate.
Not being able to score even one goal with the man advantage was definitely not expected. The Predators became just the 11th team in the past 30 years to finish a playoff series without scoring at least one power-play marker. They finished the regular season and playoffs with a combined power play of 33 for 270
There were other reasons Nashville were knocked out too. The team’s top line didn’t pull its weight as Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen combined for just two goals and four points in the six games after posting 162 in a combined 202 regular season outings. Johansen and Forsberg each registered a goal and assist while Arvidsson was shut out. In contrast, the line posted 17 goals and 22 assists for 39 points in 13 playoff contests last year.
Forward Wayne Simmonds missed the last four games due to injury and the much-heralded defense corp, which included P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm didn’t play up to par either… at least defensively and were a combined minus-8. With the puck, that foursome scored three goals and nine assists with Josi leading the team in playoff points with four on a pair of goals and helpers.
Veteran goaltender Pekka Rinne certainly gave his team the chance to win and even though he was pulled in the 5-1 loss in game four he had a fine series despite his 3.09 goals-against average and 90.5 save percentage. The 36-year-old made 49 saves in game six, but his teammates simply couldn’t put the puck in the net on a consistent basis against Stars’ goalie Ben Bishop.
Nashville forward Rocco Grimaldi also played well with three goals in five games while playing 12:59 per game on average. In fact, he led the team in goals points against the Stars and had replaced Forsberg on the top line by the time the series ended.
On the Dallas side, their checking line of Andrew Cogliano, Blake Comeau and Radek Faksa did an excellent job on the Predators’ top line and also posted a couple of goals. The Stars’ first unit of Alexander Radulov, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn chipped in with six goals in the series with each member of the trio notching six points. They were also a combined plus-15. The second line of Mats Zuccarello, Jason Dickinson and Roope Hintz were just as good by registering seven goals.
Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop was red hot in net by making 206 saves on 218 shots for a 94.5 save percentage and 1.90 GAA and his high-danger save percentage stood at 93.9. This shouldn’t have surprised the Predators though since Bishop led the league with a 93.4 save percentage during the regular season and had a 1.98 GAA. It was essential Bishop played well since Dallas scored just 209 goals this season, which was 28th in the league and the lowest total of all 16 playoff teams.
The Stars’ blue line was led by John Klingberg and Esa Lindell with John Klingberg scoring the series winner in overtime of game six and chipping in with half a dozen points on a goal and five helpers. The pair was also a combined plus-10. We cant’ overlook the penalty-killing either since they went a perfect 100 per cent. Sure, the Predators were terrible all year long with the man advantage, but the Stars deserve some credit too.
The Stars vs Blues series should be another dandy and quite interesting with Bishop going head to head with Blues’ rookie goalie Jordan Binnington in net. Dallas won two of their games on the road in Nashville and lost one at home while the Blues pulled off three wins in Winnipeg in their series with two defeats and a home victory.