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Five reasons Preds' Cup dreams went up in smoke

By John Manasso - NHL.com Correspondent

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Five reasons Preds' Cup dreams went up in smoke
Nashville stocked up down the stretch to make a run at the Stanley Cup, but a second-round distraction and a lack of scoring against Phoenix saw them eliminated in five games.

No team was as active as the Nashville Predators in the time leading up the NHL's trading deadline and with the moves they made -- trading for defenseman Hal Gill, center Paul Gaustad and wing Andrei Kostitsyn -- and then getting right wing Alexander Radulov back from the KHL in March, the Predators believed that they had as good a chance as anyone to win the Western Conference and play for the franchise's first Stanley Cup.

Even in defeat, the Predators seemed to voice the idea that they might have had a better team than Phoenix did -- or more talent -- but that the Coyotes played better.

In any event, after ousting Detroit in five games in the conference quarterfinals, the Preds did not expect to see themselves out in as many games against Phoenix. Here are five reasons why the Preds fell short of their lofty expectations:

1. Couldn't score

In Games 3 and 4 at Bridgestone Arena, the Predators allowed only one goal in 120 minutes and found themselves with a split and facing elimination as they went back to Phoenix on Monday for Game 5.

The 1-0 loss in Game 4, in particular, proved excruciating as the Predators failed to connect on some golden opportunities. Most notably, the team's leading goal-scorer in the regular season, Patric Hornqvist, shot the puck over the crossbar from 12 feet away on a wide-open net and then later could not convert a goal-mouth feed for another open net.

At a certain point, it seemed that Phoenix goalie Mike Smith had gotten inside the heads of the Preds' shooters. Nashville went seven full periods without scoring between Games 3 and 5. Colin Wilson finally ended Smith's scoreless streak at 162 minutes 36 seconds at the 14:01 mark of the third period of Game 5, but by then it was too late.

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Nashville scored only four goals in the final three games of the series and its power play -- ranked first in the NHL during the regular season -- went 0-for-12 during that span.

2. Kostitsyn-Radulov fiasco

With their decision to break curfew the night before Game 2, Andrei Kostitsyn and Radulov -- two of the team's top six forwards and, at the time, their two leading playoff scorers -- essentially took themselves out of the next three games. Nashville needed them at their best to win the series.

They played in Game 2, but Radulov was held up to public ridicule on national television by analyst Keith Jones during the NBC Sports Network broadcast for lack of effort and execution. He finished minus-2 in that game. Two days later, the Preds announced that he and Kostitsyn would be held out of the Game 3 lineup for violating team rules.

After the Preds won Game 3 by a 2-0 score, coach Barry Trotz elected to hold them out again in Game 4, which Nashville lost 1-0.

Radulov had one point in the series -- an assist -- and a minus-3 rating. Kostitsyn had two goals and a plus-1 rating, but neither player provided a point over the final three games, as Nashville went 1-2, an ultimately fatal stretch.

Listen to how Phoenix coach Dave Tippett responded to a question about whether the Coyotes were more detailed than the Preds on Monday after winning the series:

"I think we got really fortunate on Nashville having a major distraction," he said. "And I know just as a coach, it's hard enough to win in this League as it is. Major distractions make it even harder, so I thought that it made them think a lot about dealing about that issue and all we were concentrating on was the next game and how we were going to win. Don't get me wrong -- I'm sure they were thinking about that, too, but the added pressure to go along with playoff pressure … I just don't think it helped their situation."

3. Best players weren't their best

After Game 4 put Nashville down 3-1, Trotz talked about needing his best players to be their best. It didn't happen -- at least from a production standpoint, which is what counts.

Trotz had kept together Nashville's top line of Sergei Kostitsyn, Mike Fisher and Martin Erat for four months before he finally broke it up entering Game 5 for a lack of effectiveness. He put Colin Wilson, who did not dress for the first six games of the playoffs, on that line to start Game 5 and demoted Sergei Kostitsyn to the fourth line.

During the regular season, that trio combined for 60 goals and a plus-31 rating. In the series, they scored two goals and collectively were minus-6.

Hornqvist had three points in the first two games of the series, but none in the last three.

Shea Weber, who tied for the League lead in goals by a defenseman during the regular season with 19, did not score in the series and had only one point.

4. Losing Game 1

If there was any game that the Coyotes stole, it was Game 1, which they won 4-3 after being outshot 25-7 in the third period and overtime. Nashville lost a defensive zone faceoff and Ray Whitney put a diving shot past goalie Pekka Rinne for the game-winner.

In a short series, the magnitude of every game is increased and even though it was the first game, it was a game Nashville ultimately could not afford to have lost.

"Game 1, we were fortunate to win," Tippett said on Monday after winning the series.

The loss set a bad tone for Nashville for the rest of the series.

5. Getting away from "Predator Hockey"

In losing the first two games in Phoenix, the Preds allowed as many goals (nine) as they did in the entire five games of their first-round series.

They had more than a week off between series and the rust showed for the first two periods of Game 1, which cost the Predators. Game 2 was a disaster, Nashville's worst of the series, as the Preds allowed a playoff-high five goals. Trotz later referred to them as a "turnover machine" in that game.

Down 2-0 in the series, the Predators were confronted with the reality that a team that played a similar style to themselves was doing it better. Nashville got back on course in Game 3 with its only victory, but even though the Preds did a better job of playing their style in the last two games, they could not score enough to surmount the hole they dug themselves early on.

Quote of the Day

He seemed to thrive on his own and didn't really need any push from me. I certainly don't want to get in the way of the coaches. You see how that goes sometimes. I never really worried about it and just enjoyed the ride.

— David Ekblad on his son's [Aaron Ekblad] journey to the NHL, signing with the Florida Panthers