Predators rode Rinne, depth, balance to clinch playoff berth
Falling short in Final last season motivating Nashville to finish job this timeby Robby Stanley / NHL.com Correspondent
The Nashville Predators arguably have the most talented roster in their history, leading to the NHL's best record (47-14-10) for 104 points in 71 games.
The Predators are going to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, becoming the first team to clinch a berth into the playoffs with a 4-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on Friday.
Nashville is 13-0-1 in its past 14 games, tying the longest point streak in its history (set in 2016), with a chance to break its record for points in a season (110, set in 2006-07).
Video: 2017-2018 NHL Playoffs: Nashville Predators
Here are five reasons the Predators clinched a playoff berth:
1. Rinne's dominance
Goaltender Pekka Rinne, 35, is having a Vezina Trophy-caliber season and could be having his finest NHL season. He is 39-9-4 with a 2.25 goals-against average, a .929 save percentage and seven shutouts, tied for the League lead with Andrei Vasilveskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Rinne is 20-1-1 with four shutouts since Jan. 6 and has helped Nashville's ascension to the top of the NHL standings.
"His whole career, he's just been incredible for this organization with the way he's backstopped it for so many years with so much consistency," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "What you see on the ice is incredible, the person that he is, is even better than that. We're fortunate to have a guy like that here."
Video: NSH@ARI: Rinne scrambles across to make kick save
2. Balanced scoring
The Predators don't have anyone in the top 50 in the NHL in scoring, but they do boast a balanced offensive attack that has them seventh in the NHL with 3.20 goals per game.
Seven Nashville players have at least 40 points and 13 players have scored at least 10 goals. Forward Viktor Arvidsson is their leading scorer with 53 points (26 goals, 27 assists).
The Predators have three defensemen (P.K. Subban, Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm) who have at least 31 points. Their depth, not any single player, is their biggest offensive weapon.
3. Ellis' resurgence
Defenseman Ryan Ellis missed the first 38 games recovering from offseason knee surgery but has made a significant impact since he returned to the lineup Jan. 2.
Ellis has 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists) in 33 games, and the Predators are 24-4-5 with him in the lineup. He has solidified the defense pairs, playing with Josi and allowing Subban to play with Ekholm.
Video: Discussing Ryan Ellis' impact
4. Center depth
General manager David Poile has significantly bolstered the depth at center since the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Predators signed Nick Bonino on July 1 and acquired Kyle Turris in a trade with the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 5.
Colton Sissons has spent significant time at center this season, and Mike Fisher came out of retirement on Feb. 26.
Ryan Johansen, Turris and Bonino seem to have found full-time positions at center with Sissons, Fisher and Austin Watson also capable of filling that role on the fourth line. Nashville's depth at center has boosted the entire forward group.
"We know that we've got a good, solid five lines that we can play," Fisher said. "I think we're all pulling for each other, regardless of who's in and who's out. I think everyone knows that we're just here to help. Whoever is in, we can't get concerned about that. I know it's going to be talked about a lot, but we're all in it together. We're all cheering each other on. We just want to win."
5. Unfinished business
Nashville was two wins from winning the Stanley Cup last season, losing the Final to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. Getting that close before ultimately falling short of their goal has been a source of motivation.
The Predators never have finished in first place in the NHL or won a division title. They have an opportunity to accomplish both this season, which would give them home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.
"It's a goal that we can say out loud," Rinne said. "It's something that we haven't done before here. That would mean a lot, I think, to all of us and for our fans too. This building (Bridgestone Arena), there's not too many banners in here. That would be great. I think that's our goal. Obviously right now, things are going for us."
Video: The crew discuss the Predators' playoff-clinching win