NASHVILLE – The Nashville Predators never feel like they are out of a game. It may sound cliché, but if the first half of their season proved anything, it’s that the Preds are capable of winning no matter what kind of deficit they face.
This season, the Preds have made five comebacks in 17 instances when trailing after the second period, good for the highest percentage in the NHL through Monday’s action. That’s not counting other comeback wins when facing other deficits, whether it’s late in the game or by two goals.
With all of their comebacks this season, most in dramatic fashion, it may be safe to call the Predators – the youngest team in the league, not to mention – the ‘comeback kids’. What is their key to success when they find themselves trailing on the scoreboard in key moments?
“I think the biggest thing is the belief we can do it,” goaltender Pekka Rinne said. “We try to get back in the game with one goal and build momentum going forward. Maybe teams start second guessing themselves and then it’s our time to shine.”
The Preds have frustrated opponents to no end this season with their abundance of comebacks. Following a win against Columbus on Dec. 22 where the Preds trailed by three goals after the first period, 4-1, and won the game, 6-5, with 8.4 seconds left in regulation, Blue Jackets forward R.J. Umberger emphatically broke his stick in half on the boards and subsequently sat on the bench with his head in his hands. That’s just one example.
On four consecutive Thursdays in December, the Preds pulled off a dramatic comeback win. Aside from the aforementioned game against the Jackets, the Preds were trailing 3-1 in Columbus on Dec. 8 with less than two minutes remaining. Barry Trotz’s gang scored twice in the final 96 seconds and won, 4-3, in overtime. That win came a week before Shea Weber scored twice in the final five minutes to top rival Detroit, 4-3, at home.
“I think if you have belief in the system and your team, you realize that if you go down a couple goals you can come back,” forward Colin Wilson said.
The Preds also have comeback wins over Washington and Colorado at home, Vancouver and San Jose on the road.
“Those wins build confidence and belief,” Wilson said. “We’ve come back a lot, so when we go down 2-0 we come in the dressing room confident we can come back since we’ve been there before.”
Obviously, Wilson and the Preds don’t want to be in position to have to make all of these comebacks. They don’t want to spot the opposition a 2-0 or 3-0 lead. In most of these aforementioned cases the Preds have trailed by two or three goals early in the game, forcing them to battle back for the rest of the game.
“That’s something we have to work on,” Wilson said. “It’s a lot better playing with the lead. Sometimes we play better without the lead and coming back, but we have to learn how to get the lead and play with it.”
Said Rinne, “Obviously we don’t want to put ourselves in that situation where we are down two or three goals and have to rally back. Fortunately we’ve been pretty good at it.”
Speaking with a lot of experience just from this season, Trotz believes you just have to move on and not get frustrated with the mistakes that led to the early deficit.
“You have to mentally park it for a second and sort of move forward,” he said. “If there’s something that we learned, maybe we learned something in the playoffs. Things are going to change and you just have to deal with it, good or bad, and you have to deal with it the proper way. … I think we’ve learned a few lessons in the past.”
The playoff reference focuses on the previous two postseasons where the Preds have been on the giving and receiving end of comebacks in crucial games. In Game 5 in Chicago two years ago, the Preds blew a late lead and lost in overtime. A year later in almost the same scenario, the Preds beat the Ducks in Game 5 with a late game-tying goal and overtime winner.
From now through the rest of the season, opponents will have to be wary of one- or two-goal leads in late-game situations – because the Predators sure know how to erase those deficits when their backs are against the wall. As Trotz would say, and Rinne reiterated, coming from behind to win games is now in their DNA.
“No matter what the situation is,” Rinne said, “this team realizes there is still a chance until the final buzzer.”
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.