If this situation feels familiar, it should.
Returning home from the West Coast in a 3-2 series deficit, the Nashville Predators are on the brink of elimination for the second time this postseason. It was exactly two weeks ago when the Preds landed at Nashville International Airport, down 3-2 to the Anaheim Ducks, tasked with winning their next two games, or be done until September.
The Preds did just that, taking Game Six in Nashville before going back to Anaheim to win their first Game Seven in franchise history, leading to a date with the San Jose Sharks in Round Two. Now, they have to do it again.
“I think any experience you get playoff-wise, in life, whatever it might be, hockey, you can always learn from it and draw from those experiences,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said Sunday afternoon. “Having gone through it with such a young team, even last year with the Chicago series, going through some things in the First Round this year, climbing out of an 0-2 hole in this series… all these things put some mileage on you and make you better prepared for what’s ahead.”
After winning two in a row in Nashville last week, including a triple-overtime thriller on Thursday, the Preds fell 5-1 to the Sharks in Game Five on Saturday night, a contest that saw San Jose play as the better team for much of the night.
“I don’t think that we played the type of game we typically play, and they were better than us in a lot of different areas,” Laviolette said. “We’ll look to straighten that out. We did a lot of good things in Games Two, Three and Four, and we’ll look to get back to that.”
“We talked about it this morning already,” defenseman Barret Jackman said of Game Five. “You have to have that fire and be [angry] that you lost the game and take that emotion into tomorrow. But you also have it in your head that you’re not going to repeat that effort, and we’re going to come out flying tomorrow.”
As they have through the regular season, and especially these playoffs, Laviolette will depend on his leadership core to help guide the club through whatever will come on Monday night. Couple that with the return home to Bridgestone Arena, and the Preds are remaining confident once more.
“A lot of it has to do with the leadership in the room, starting with Shea [Weber], Pekka [Rinne], Mike Fisher, James Neal, Roman Josi, Paul Gaustad, just a lot of veteran players that do the right things, say the right things and then they go and they do the right things,” Laviolette said. “We’ve been through it, but now we have to go and do it again tomorrow in our building, and we’ll be happy to get home in front of our fans. They’ve proven to be a really positive influence for us in the playoffs. The energy has been great, and we’ll look to turn things around tomorrow night.”