The Nashville Predators lost a tough, fast-paced Western Conference First Round series to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games after spending the majority of the season near the top of the NHL standings. Nashville lost six games in a row heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs and was matched up against a team that has twice won the Stanley Cup in the past five seasons.
The Predators were a young team with eight players making their debut in the playoffs. Their youth showed they have a promising future, but they were unable to solve the Blackhawks.
Nashville was very competitive in the series and outscored Chicago 21-19, but Chicago's depth proved to be too much for Nashville to overcome.
Here are five reasons the Red Wings were eliminated:
1. Shea Weber's absence – Weber was knocked out of Game 2 with a lower-body injury and did not return for the remainder of the series. His injury was a huge blow to the Predators because he plays in every situation.
Weber finished the regular season in the top five in average time on ice per game, and his slap shot is one of the most lethal weapons in the League on the power play. Weber and Roman Josi formed one of the League's top defensive pairings and were a big part of the offensive attack. More than anything, the Predators missed Weber's leadership on the ice and his ability to play against top competition every game.
2. Inability to hold a lead – Nashville jumped out to a 3-0 lead in Game 1 and a 3-1 lead in Game 6 and lost each of those games. The inability to protect those leads cost them two games in which they had opportunities to come away with wins.
In Games 1 and Game 6, Nashville chased the starting goaltender and did not score for the remainder of the game against the backup. The Predators held a 2-1 lead in the third period of Game 4 but allowed Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad to tie the game.
3. Pekka Rinne's slow start – Rinne had a .891 save percentage and a 2.91 goals-against average through the first three games, and the Predators lost two of them. His slow start allowed the Blackhawks to take control of the series by stealing home-ice advantage.
Rinne wasn't making saves that he normally does in the first three games and was beaten through the five-hole regularly. He improved in that area as the series progressed, but he had to be playing at an elite level in every game if the Predators were going to win. Rinne didn't consistently play at that level, and especially when coupled with the loss of Weber that was a dagger for the Predators.
4. Unable to stop Duncan Keith – Keith was sensational defensively and offensively, and scored arguably the two biggest goals of the series. He won Game 1 on a slap shot from the point that went through traffic and beat Rinne, and scored the game-winning goal on a similar play in Game 6.
Keith finished with two goals and five assists in six games and led all skaters with 32:03 of average time on ice per game. He also played against Nashville's top forwards for the majority of the time and finished with a plus-3 rating. Keith was arguably Chicago's most valuable player.
5. Overtime slumps – The Predators did not score a goal in five periods of overtime despite having many opportunities to do so. Goaltender Scott Darling was able to stonewall the Predators and guide the Blackhawks to wins in Game 1 and Game 4.
Rinne and the defense performed well in overtime, but the offense wasn't able to execute. The Predators outshot the Blackhawks in Games 1 and 4 and had power-play chances to win. The Blackhawks did a good job of boxing out the Predators and not letting them get to many loose rebounds.