At a press conference before the Nashville Predators opened their 2012 first-round playoff series against the Detroit Red Wings—a series they have since won in five games—head coach Barry Trotz shared a telling thought about his team.
While discussing his club’s depth, Trotz said, “Even when I wasn’t happy with our overall play, we seemed to win, so that’s part of being a team that finds ways to win and a team that has some depth.”
The quote highlights a pretty amazing aspect of the 2011-12 Predators: The team has a real knack for bailing itself out of trouble and finding ways to win.
Take, for example, the Detroit series that Nashville wrapped up on Friday. Nashville was outshot by a combined 84-39 in two games at Joe Louis Arena, yet left Detroit with two playoff road wins.
“The two games in Detroit, we could have been on the other end of that,” Trotz said prior to the series-clinching Game 5. “We got some good goaltending. We’ve had some timely goals. We’ve had a pretty good penalty kill. All those factors. And we haven’t played our best yet. The exciting thing about it is we don’t feel we’ve played very, very well at times. We’ve played well in segments of the game, and other times we haven’t played as well. To me, we can amp that up and the great thing is that the group believes that they can amp that up as well.
“We’re finding ways to win. This group has always been resilient. That’s part of our DNA. We find ways, we dig in.”
A key player in the Predators’ ability to steal wins is unquestionably goaltender Pekka Rinne
. The runner-up last season for the NHL’s Vezina Trophy for the league’s best goaltender, Rinne led the league in wins during the 2011-12 regular season with 43—a franchise record. “Obviously Peks is unbelievable,” defenseman Ryan Suter
said before Game 5 versus Detroit. “When we’re not playing well, he seems to step up his game and keep us in games long enough for us to get a couple goals.”
“I think it’s really important when you get in playoffs to get a big goaltender who’s going to win some games for you sometime, when you need it,” defenseman Francis Bouillon
says. “That’s what Pekka does for us, like in the first round and even through the season. There were some games where the opponent was all over us and we came out with two points. It was pretty amazing. That’s what you need in the playoffs.”
The team has been able to return the favor on occasion this season, thanks in large part to scoring depth and the league’s best power play during the regular season. On Dec. 1, 2011, the Predators gave up four straight goals to the Canucks in the second period in Vancouver to go down 5-3 midway through the game. Rinne was replaced by back-up goalie Anders Lindback
and the team rallied to get their starting netminder off the hook with three unanswered goals, including Mike Fisher
’s game-winner with 1:16 left in regulation. That comeback was one of six remarkable rallies the Predators pulled off during the regular season. A week after the Vancouver win they scored twice in the last 1:36 of the third in Columbus to erase a 3-1 deficit before Colin Wilson
won the game 1:45 into OT. A week later, Shea Weber
scored twice in the final five minutes to overtake Detroit for a 4-3 win. And a week after that, the Preds again tallied twice in the final five minutes to complete another comeback against the Blue Jackets. January saw similar rallying wins against Colorado and Minnesota.
“A lot of it is mentality and confidence in the group and knowing that you’re never out of it,” Fisher says. “There’s a lot of will in here that we never seem to give up even when we’re down. And I think our depth really shows. Different guys are stepping up all the time and scoring big goals for us. We’re able to throw a lot of different looks at teams and it makes us harder to check as well.”
When asked where this year’s club ranks among other Predators squads in terms of finding ways to win, Trotz says, “I think it’s up there. … This team was really young most of the year and has found ways to get it done. You can go through a number of signature games, the Columbus comeback—actually two Columbus comebacks, one there and one in our building. We’ve had a couple of those. This team’s had pretty good bounce-ability in terms of games.”
“Every year you’ve got different teams and you’ve got different stories,” winger Martin Erat
says. “During the year, you’re going to find a couple games where you can look back and say, ‘Oh, that was the breaking point where the team came together and played like this all season long.’ ”
Now, as the Predators prepare for a trip to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they will almost certainly continue to draw on that resiliency that Trotz says is part of their “DNA.” It may be the confidence and competitive edge the team needs to push further into the post-season than ever before.
“I think in some games this year, even if the opponent had the lead by two goals or three goals, we were always involved in the game and we never give up,” Bouillon says. “That’s what I like from this team. That’s character, a good attitude and a good mix of players.”
“I think we don’t panic out there,” Patric Hornqvist
says. “Even if you’re down a goal or up a goal, we are still working our game plan. We can’t just run and gun out there. It’s not how we play. We have to stick to our game plan and I think we did it really, really good in the first round and we have to do it even better in the second round.”