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Predators reflect on difficult end to season

by John Manasso
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- With their first taste of playoff success, the Nashville Predators learned a number of things -- the sad fact among them that the farther a team advances, the harder it is to accept defeat.

"All the great teams said they had to learn how to lose before they could win and, you know, we lost a bunch in the first round," said David Legwand, a Predator since the team's first season. "The farther you get the tougher it is to swallow."

The Predators' season officially ended in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals at 9:46 Central time Monday with a 2-1 loss at Bridgestone Arena to Vancouver. In the immediate aftermath, players were having a hard time finding the silver lining, which is a shiny one, to be sure.

For the first time in six playoff appearances, Nashville won a round, defeating Anaheim in six games. Then in a series against the President's Trophy-winning Canucks, they won an elimination game for the first time in six tries. Every game in the series was a one-goal game, except for Game 4, which included an empty-netter, and two ended in overtime.

The closeness with which the series was played added to the Predators' difficulty in accepting the loss. But in the long run, the experience will make them a better team, coach Barry Trotz said.

"I'll tell you exactly what I told the players, not every word, but one the things I said to them (was), 'At training camp in September, if you would've said the Predators got through the first round and played real hard and get knocked out in second round,' I probably would've said that was a big step forward in a successful season," Trotz said. "When you are as close as you are and feel as close you were in this series -- I mean, every game was one goal and we had a lot of people out; we had a lot of Milwaukee influence (Nashville's AHL team) through the playoffs here  -- and they did a great job.

"And I said to them here I don't feel that way now -- the way I probably would've felt in September -- because the hurt is deep and I said, 'Don't forget this feeling,' because that is what's going to drive you to the next level. The first round is really mentally tough because it's really the first time you've really got to extend yourself to the next level and, the second round, you're ready for it and grow from it and it makes you a better player, it makes you a better person, it makes you a harder team. It makes you battle ready. We made a lot of steps forward."

In his postgame remarks on Monday, Trotz briefly allowed himself to play the 'what if' game. He mentioned all of the players that Nashville lost to injury this season and who were unavailable for the playoffs.

Matthew Lombardi, signed to be the team's top center last offseason, played the first two games of the regular season and then was lost thereafter because of a concussion. No. 3 defenseman Francis Bouillon also did not play in the series because of injury. Center Marcel Goc and forward Cal O'Reilly were other important players who could not participate because of injury.

In the end, Nashville was undone because of its inability to score. The Preds scored 11 goals in the series, but only five players did the honors: Joel Ward (four), David Legwand (four), Cody Franson, Ryan Suter and Matt Halischuk.

Trotz said Nashville needed another "secondary hero" to advance. But he, like most of his players, believed that they did have a chance to knock off a team with a far longer list of regular season achievements.

The fact that Nashville got as far as it did was a testament to the play of goalie Pekka Rinne, a Vezina Trophy finalist, defenseman and captain Shea Weber, a Norris Trophy finalist, and Ryan Suter, leading the playoffs in time on ice, with a cast of important contributions from others.

And then there is Trotz, who, again, is a finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy.

"This was a very special group," Trotz said. "Not too many times -- I've been coaching a long time -- I can say this group had a great intangible. If we would've beat the Vancouver Canucks, it wouldn't have surprised me. One bit. Because they had a lot of intangibles and they were a group you can be proud of. They came to work. They had a great team unity and they found ways to get it done and they didn't want any excuses of guys out."
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