The Nashville Predators put the puck in the net 232 times this season. On the contrary, they only allowed 208 goals in 2014-15, the eighth best mark in the League. Those on the Preds blue line had plenty to do with both of those numbers.
But as Head Coach Peter Laviolette and others have preached over the past 24 hours, when the puck drops on Wednesday for Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals between the Preds and Chicago Blackhawks, what happened in the regular season isn't all that pertinent.
“Whatever we finished, eighth, first, it doesn’t matter anymore,” defenseman Ryan Ellis said after practice on Monday. “It’s just about winning four games, and that’s obviously our intention. We have Game One coming up, and I think we’re all pretty excited in here.”
Although the numbers from the past 82 games effectively start at zero once more, the hope is that the offensive prowess from the Nashville blue line will continue to emanate over the coming days and weeks.
The Preds were first in the NHL in goals scored from the backend with 55 and second in points with 193 total from their defensemen. In fact, of Nashville’s 82 games this season, there were only eight games where a member of the club’s blue line did not record at least a point.
They’ll now continue to not only try to score goals, but prevent them from the opposition. Considering a Chicago team with the likes of Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, plus, the seemingly imminent return of Patrick Kane to the Hawks lineup, the Preds have quite a challenge.
“They have some of the best players in the League, and we are going to have a tough task in defending them, as well as creating offense,” Ellis said. “But we have some pretty good players in here as well, and the more you can play with the puck in their end, the better your chances are. They’re a good team, we’re a good team and we’re both here for a reason, so it’ll be a great matchup.”
“[The Blackhawks are] very dynamic and they play a high-octane, offensive game,” defenseman Seth Jones said. “It’s going to be very fast and physical, so we’ve got to be able to play solid defense and attack them when we can.”
When the shifty Chicago forwards do get their inevitable chances on net, Nashville has another line of defense in the blue paint. Pekka Rinne, who leads the franchise in virtually every postseason category for goaltenders, including wins, could be a deciding factor in the series.
“I feel like over the years, they’ve kind of had the same foundation on their team, the same key players, and you start to know them pretty well as players,” Rinne said of the Blackhawks. “You know that they have one of the better teams in the NHL, and it’s a great matchup for us and a fun team to play against. I feel like as a goalie and as a hockey player, it doesn’t get much more exciting than that.”
And for the Predators, Wednesday night can’t come soon enough.
“We’re a good team here,” Ellis said. “We’re just excited to get this thing started and see what challenges come up next.”