Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette said that the NHL playoff second round series between Nashville and the Winnipeg Jets was ‘unpredictable.’
Autumn Allison, USA TODAY NETWORK- Tennessee
It wasn’t supposed to end this way.
The Predators’ historic regular season had fans dreaming of an epic parade down Broadway, the Stanley Cup gleaming in the summer sun. No one pictured them on the losing end of a handshake line, especially not at Bridgestone Arena.
But the reality is the Predators, eliminated from the second round Thursday by the Winnipeg Jets in a 5-1 loss, fell well short of massive expectations. It’s hard to view this as anything other than an unmitigated disappointment.
“Right now, it’s hard to look forward,” Predators captain Roman Josi said. “We have all the players to be successful, but obviously everybody’s really disappointed right now.”
Rexrode: Pekka Rinne, Predators came up small in the biggest of moments
The unpredictability of this series between the NHL’s best two teams made for compelling theater. Just when you thought you figured it out, it swerved in a different direction.
Give credit to the Jets, who were the better team at the most critical moments. As for the Predators, their postseason was plagued by inconsistency.
They won consecutive games once. They lost four of seven games at Bridgestone Arena, squandering the home-ice advantage they prioritized from the first day of training camp.
“I think we didn’t execute as well as we did on the road,” Josi said. “Especially in this series, I thought we just executed better on the road and played better defense. For some reason, we didn’t do that at home.”
The haphazard play of Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne this postseason made him the subject of criticism, and his cringeworthy start Thursday did nothing to discredit his detractors. He surrendered groan-inducing goals to Jets defenseman Tyler Myers and center Paul Stastny in the first period, prompting Predators coach Peter Laviolette to pull him for the third time at home in the series.
Rinne’s 10:31 of playing time was the least by a starting goaltender in a Game 7 in NHL postseason history.
“I feel very much responsible for our season ending at this point,” said Rinne, who had a 4.93 goals-against average and .848 save percentage in four home starts against the Jets. “The biggest moment of the season, it’s a terrible feeling. You let your teammates down, and that’s what happened tonight. That’s tough to swallow.”
Game 7 reactions: Predators fans take to social media to vent, commiserate
Rinne doesn’t deserve full blame. The Predators suffered from lapses in coverage and focus throughout the series that left him exposed to the Jets’ relentless attack. Stastny scored twice, as did center Mark Scheifele, who set a league record with seven road goals in a single series.
“I felt at times they had their whole team going. We didn’t,” said Predators defenseman P.K. Subban, who accounted for four of the six goals scored by the team’s defense in the playoffs. “It comes down to that. I think everybody could’ve played a lot better, could’ve given more.”
There will be another banner-raising ceremony in October. The Predators will commemorate their first Central Division title and Presidents’ Trophy that night, but something will be missing.
“We feel like we have the group in here that can get the job done,” Predators center Ryan Johansen said. “When you come (up) short, it hurts. It stings. But you’ve got to look at the big picture, and you’ve got to look at what needs to be done better individually and as a team.
“The positive thing is we’re a young team, and for the most part, our team will be here together for a while. Learn from it and come next year, we’ll have more experience again and find a way to reach our goal.”
Reach Adam Vingan at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @AdamVingan.