Dance card punched. Berth clinched. Spot reserved.
The Nashville Predators are officially back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
A Washington Capitals regulation victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night ensured the Predators will play in the postseason for the second consecutive year under Head Coach Peter Laviolette. The Preds received a little help from former Head Coach Barry Trotz on Friday, with the Washington win ensuring Colorado cannot catch Nashville's point total. The Predators' rapid ascension up the standings since early February placed them in the position to register a postseason spot early, with the Caps win marking the final needed step.
A sizzling 14-5-5 since Feb. 12, a date that also started a franchise-record, 14-game point streak, the Predators have used the third-most points in the NHL since the aforementioned day to put a 180-degree spin on their season.
“Going into free agency [this summer], Nashville was a team that I thought not only could make the playoffs but could contend for a Stanley Cup,” said d-man Barret Jackman, who signed a two-year deal with Nashville in July. “What we’ve done the last month and a bit has been fun to be a part of, and you can feel the crowd and the city starting to feel that excitement for the playoff push.”
“I think every team is battling to get to this point, and you have to play a lot of games, you have to win a lot of games to clinch that spot,” Preds goaltender Pekka Rinne said. “You still have to prepare yourself and keep the engine going and get better and better and ramp up for the playoffs, so [it’s] nice knowing a little bit earlier you’re all set for the playoffs.”
At the conclusion of the 2015 calendar year, simply qualifying for the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs seemed like an up-hill battle for the Preds. Now, a 30,000-foot view of Nashville’s season sees them clinching a postseason berth four days after the date they did a year ago, but Preds players and media agree: this time feels different.
“We were in a different situation a month and a half ago than what we’re in today,” said Ryan Johansen, who was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in January. “We were in a dogfight, and we were able to play some high-level hockey from that period of time until now, and it’s a credit to everyone in this room for how we’ve worked and how we’ve played.”
“We’ve been doing this for 70-something games, and it’s all about getting there,” winger Filip Forsberg said. “It doesn’t really matter how you get there. It doesn’t matter if you win the last 40 or lose the last 40. As long as you’re in, anyone can win it.”
Laviolette often turns philosophical when describing the lack of road map to the Stanley Cup, but he is adamant about the importance of using the regular season to make competing for a championship possible. Now, anything is possible.
The final question for Nashville’s playoff appearance is who the club will face in the first round. Be sure to check the Predators 2016 Playoff Opponent Update daily for the latest news and statistics on who the Preds will take on in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.