We officially have our first elimination of the 2021-22 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Nashville Predators were swept in the first round last night by the Colorado Avalanche in an unsurprising chain of events. Let's go ahead and break down what went right, and mostly, what went wrong for Nashville.
Defensemen Roman Josi (left) and Mattias Ekholm (right) (Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)
What went wrong
Their opponent & offensive woes
Well, first and foremost, and probably most obvious, the Predators biggest blunder in the first round was running into the Colorado Avalanche to begin with. I feel like I sound like a broken record, but I have talked at length all year about how good the Avalanche are, and how I believe they'll be the 2022 Stanley Cup Champions.
Colorado set the tone early, absolutely obliterating the Predators in Game 1, with a final score of 7-2. Game 2 was a bit closer, and Nashville actually made a contest out of this one, but ultimately it ended in a 3-2 overtime victory for the Avalanche. In Games 3 and 4, Nashville descended back into their offensive slump, losing Game 3 by a score of 3-7, and Game 4 by a final tally of 3-5.
Overachieving from the start
Another point that I've been trying to stress all season long has been the overachievements of the Nashville Predators. Which brings me to my next point;
Not to diss on the Preds or their following, but I'm sure even the fans down in Nashville can admit that they weren't really meant to be here this year. A pleasant surprise? Yes. Meant to last long? No.
Standings wise, Nashville was the worst team in the NHL to have made the playoffs this year. The Predators just barely squeaked into the final wild card spot in the Western Conference with 97 points, just three points ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights. So many pieces from the 2017 Eastern Conference Champion Nashville Predators have departed, leaving many to expect the Preds to not even compete for a playoff spot this year.
Well, they did, and they put up a valiant effort, but it's over for them.
It wouldn't be fair to the Predators if I didn't mention that Nashville was without All-Star goaltender, and Vezina Trophy finalist, Juuse Saros in this series, which may have played a big role in them being swept. NHL goalies are, in many ways, the leaders of their team. How many times have we seen a goaltender put his team on his back and steal a game or a series away from their opponent? Knock knock, it's the 2020-21 Montreal Canadiens and Carey Price at the door.
Nashville deployed backup goalie, David Rittich, who only made one start in the playoffs, posting a 19.91 GAA and .615 save percentage. The reins were then handed over to Connor Ingram, who started the final three games, taking a loss in all of them, while putting up a 3.64 GAA and .913 save percentage. Not horrible numbers, but obviously not good enough.
What went right
Now we'll try to leave the article off on a positive note and talk about the good amongst all the bad.
The future of the team
Nashville got swept. They got beat by a team that was faster than them, more skilled than them, hungrier than them, and just all around better than them in every facet of the game. Being beaten by easily the best team in the league isn't something to hang your head in shame about, however.
Nashville is home to the likely-Norris Trophy winner, Roman Josi, along with Calder Trophy candidate, Tanner Jeannot. The Predators are also, tentatively, home to one of the most talented scorers in the league, winger, Filip Forsberg. Forsberg is set to hit unrestricted free-agency this offseason, where he'll almost certainly command a hefty pay day from teams all over the NHL.
Nashville GM, David Poile, has stated that re-signing Forsberg is of the highest priority to him this summer. If Poile can succeed and bring Forsberg back to Nashville, and if the front office is able to build around Forsberg, Josi, Jeannot, and Saros, the Predators will be back in the playoffs before long, and better than ever.