It's the best time of year!
It’s the question that every Predators fan is itching to know. Has a late-season surge put this team in position to get over the hump? Or will this just be another disappointing finish to a successful regular season?
Their fate just might lie in the hands of the franchise’s three biggest pieces – Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber and Barry Trotz.
One reason why Nashville is feared by many in the Western Conference is the play of Pekka Rinne. The Vezina Trophy candidate (and Hart Trophy long-shot) has been nothing short of spectacular, giving the Preds a chance to win on a nightly basis.
“I think he’s the best in the world,” defenseman Shane O’Brien says of Rinne.
The Preds have always had good goaltending in the playoffs – Tomas Vokoun in 2004 and 2007, Rinne in 2010 – but it has never been as great as Rinne’s play has been all year long. If he plays to his capabilities, I don’t think you can rule out a performance of near-epic proportions (see: J.S. Giguere in 2003, Miikka Kiprusoff in 2004, Jaroslav Halak in 2010).
Another Predator that is getting some hardware love, Shea Weber, has the added responsibility of wearing the ‘C’ this spring. He’s not a rah-rah guy in the locker room, but does lead by example on the ice. He put together a Norris Trophy-esque season on the Predators blueline.
Weber’s patented slap-shot makes opponents (and teammates) get out of the way, while his mean streak defensively can be just as frightening. With his contract situation up in the air and it being his first postseason as captain, I’m interested to see if there is another level in Weber’s game that we haven’t seen yet. He and defense pairing Ryan Suter must do an admirable job of slowing down the top-line they’ll be facing in round one.
And then you have the beloved head coach, Barry Trotz, who has manned the bench since day one. Some of the blame/criticism has been put on his shoulders in past springs for his decision-making within games and series.
His system obviously works for the duration of an 82-game schedule, but with every first-round exit, there’s added doubt about whether he can coach his club to playoff victory. In what has been one of his best coaching jobs in Nashville, this is a critical postseason for Trotz, who could get a second straight nomination for the Jack Adams.
Obviously the Preds will need other things to go their way – timely goal-scoring, special teams stepping up, road success, etc. – if they wish to make a playoff run. But this trio of strength within the organization is vital to any sort of postseason success.
This is Nashville’s sixth trip to the playoffs in the last seven years (one of only six teams to accomplish that), and there is a lot of pressure to get past the first round this time around.
Five postseasons, five first-round exits. Nashville is due to give their fans some hockey in May. Will Rinne, Weber, Trotz and the rest of the gang get this franchise over the hump and make some noise in the playoffs? It depends on matchups. But can they? Yes.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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