It didn’t really matter who you asked at the end of round one, most people would’ve told you without hesitation that Winnipeg-Nashville was going to go seven games, one way or another.
But if you then asked who would win the series, well that could’ve gone either way as the NHL’s top two teams in terms of points were matched up in the second round. It was an interesting match-up as this was a series more tuned for the Western Conference Final with being the top two teams in the west, Nashville’s “bring the puck up on offense and play through our defense” type of style vs Winnipeg’s “electric and upbeat tempo” that was able to take care of the Minnesota Wild in five games.
This Nashville team was not the team that was seeded eighth in last year’s playoffs and made in all the way to game six of the Stanley Cup Finals.
But why was this playoff team different from last year’s playoff team? This article will take a more in-depth look as to why it was a lackluster series and how Nashville was beaten at their own game.
A common thing in the series was how Nashville just didn’t seem to jump at an opportunity when they had the chance. The two teams split games one and two in Nashville and headed to Winnipeg for games three and four. If the Preds could possibly steal game three and gain a 2-1 series lead, it would be substantial as it would set up only one more guaranteed game at home for the Jets.
Nashville kicked the door down in Winnipeg to start game three and held a 3-0 lead at the first intermission with goals from Mike Fisher, P.K. Subban, and Austin Watson. What followed was an absolute meltdown, being outscored 7-1 over the next two periods.
Another missed opportunity was game five.
The first period in game five went scoreless, but the floodgates opened in the second with Winnipeg goals from Paul Stastny, two from Kyle Connor, and another one added by Dustin Byfuglien. Two more goals came in the third to ice it and put it to bed for the Jets.
Then, of course, there’s game seven, one of the biggest games in recent Nashville sports history; it was the first game seven at home for the franchise. It was a flop.
Another possibility as to how Nashville was beaten at their own game, the inconsistency in play was astounding.
It seems as if the Jets got a lot more 50/50 pucks than the Preds and while these don’t win you series’ and it’s the scores, these plays provide as much grind and grit than any other play does.
There was also an inability on defense to get the puck out of the zone.
There was a point in game five where four yellow jerseys were lined up one behind the other, screening view from goalie Pekka Rinne. There was a slapshot that followed that found its way to the back of the net.
Another inconsistent point is how the Preds ran their offense.
All season long, the team’s offense ran through its defense, and they’re also the type of team to carry it across the blue line then set up their offense. In this series, it was more of Nashville dumping it into the offensive zone then setting up. By the time they were setting up, a Jet was right there to smother the puck and they were back on offense.
Along with those two, there was little movement of the puck on power plays. This could go also go along with how Nashville didn’t jump at chances. You have the man advantage and you can’t get any movement towards the net on power plays, there’s an obvious issue.
Lastly, it felt as if Head Coach Peter Laviolette was always searching for that one lineup that could give him a spark that would help throughout the series.
We saw the first of the lineup changes after game three. Center Kevin Fiala had only one shot on goal all game and Laviolette sensed a change needed to be made.
It’s a bold move to take the player out of the lineup that put home the game-winning goal in game two, but it paid off as 36-year-old Scott Hartnell was able to give the team a much-needed boost off the bench in the 2-1 win in game four. But as the series returned to Nashville, Kevin Fiala was back in the lineup and it ended in a loss, resulting in Hartnell returning to the starting lineup for game six.
I admit to not being a hockey know-it-all, but I do know if something is working like the Hartnell line in games four and six, it’s best not to change it as you’re fighting for a series.
The normal reaction would be to congratulate the team and talk about how good of a season they had.
It was another good season full of sold out home games, the team’s first Western Conference regular season title, and the welcoming of the team’s first President’s Cup, which goes to the team with the most wins.
But save the congratulating for later and take this time to grieve, Smashville. It’s a season that ended the wrong way and in many people’s opinion, way too soon.
Written by: Jake Wallman
Edited by: Matthew Peterson