NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Winning the Stanley Cup seemed the perfect next step for the Nashville Predators after fighting all season for home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.
Now they know that winning the Presidents’ Trophy is no guarantee of winning on home ice when it matters most.
The Predators followed their Stanley Cup Final loss last June with the best season in franchise history, posting 117 points and winning their first Central Division title and the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s best team in the regular season. Their dream of finally hoisting the Stanley Cup ended Thursday night with a 5-1 loss to Winnipeg – their fourth home loss of the playoffs.
“It’s difficult,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. “We had talked about what (home ice) meant and as this series wore on, it became evident that nothing really mattered. The home ice didn’t matter, the energy in the building, what was going outside of the building with regard to energy. What really what mattered was the way the game was being played on the ice.”
The Predators lost their home-ice advantage in Game 1 to Winnipeg and also lost Game 5 and 7 outscored 19-9 in Nashville.
They have plenty of company, becoming the ninth Presidents’ Trophy winner in the past decade not to win the Stanley Cup. Only Chicago in 2013 is the exception, while the Presidents’ Trophy winner has won the Cup only eight times since the award was established. Washington, last year’s trophy winner, also lost in the second round in Game 7.
The future looks bright with the top line of Ryan Johansen, budding superstar Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson all under contract through 2021-22.
“The positive thing is we’re a young team and we for the most part, our team will be together for a while,” Johansen said. “Learn from it and come next year, we’ll have more experience again and find a way to reach our goal.”
Some things to know about how the Predators’ season ended:
What’s up with Pekka
The postseason could not have been much different than the regular season for goalie Pekka Rinne who is favored to win the Vezina Trophy in his fourth try after tying for the NHL lead with a career-high eight shutouts. Of goalies playing at least 50 games, he was first with a .927 save percentage and goals-against average at 2.31. He finished the regular season going 23-5-1 with the Predators earning 47 of a possible 59 points.
In the playoffs, Rinne was pulled from four games – three against Winnipeg and all in Nashville. “He didn’t let us down,” captain Roman Josi said of Rinne. “He’s been our best player all year. He’s been unbelievable all year. He’s an unbelievable leader all year. He’s our rock and our best player.”
The scoring Nashville heavily depended throughout the regular season from the defense corps disappeared in the posteason. The Predators led the NHL with 55 goals and 206 points from defensemen in the regular season, yet Josi and Ryan Ellis did not score a goal in 13 playoff games. Matias Ekholm had one goal and eight points. Only P.K. Subban, a Norris Trophy finalist, picked up from his career-high 16 goals in the regular season. He had nine points with four power-play goals against the Jets.
Second line MIA
The Predators’ second line of Kevin Fiala, Kyle Turris and Craig Smith combined to score 61 goals and 141 points in the regular season only to disappear in the playoffs. Fiala had three goals, including the Game 2 game-winner in double overtime of the second round. But Turris, Nashville’s big trade acquisition in November, finished with three points and no goals.
Center Mike Fisher, who came out of retirement in February , forward Scott Hartnell and defenseman Alexei Emelin are the only Predators not under contract next season. Forward Miikka Salomaki and backup goalie Juuse Saros both will be restricted free agents. Saros is much more valuable with Rinne going into the final year of his contract and turning 36 in November. Saros posted a 1.05 goals-against average and .952 save percentage this postseason.