If the Nashville Predators really want to reward the fans for their loyalty and passion, here’s something to try: Don’t get eliminated on home ice.
A sellout crowd of 17,113 at Bridgestone Arena on Monday was witness to the end of the longest playoff run in franchise history. The Predators failed to overcome an early two-goal deficit and fell 2-1 to the Vancouver Canucks in Game 6 of their Western Conference final series. The Canucks won the series 4-2, and three of their victories came in Nashville’s building.
So while this Predators’ postseason experience was unique in so many ways, the setting for the finish was all too familiar.
“We’re still not satisfied,” captain Shea Weber said. “The group in here wants to win the Stanley Cup, so it’s not easy to be going home this early.”
'Home,' of course, meaning their offseason homes.
Just as was the case twice previously with Detroit and San Jose as well as last year with Chicago, the Canucks were the ones celebrating a victory. As they did, Nashville’s fans cheered the season and some peppered the ice with yellow giveaway towels, although it was not clear whether those towels were thrown in tribute or disgust.
“We definitely weren’t ready for this [Monday] night, for this feeling,” center Jerred Smithson said. “We battled and had some good chances but didn’t capitalize.
“We fully expected to win [this game] and to win this series. We felt good about our effort in Round 1 and we did some good things in the second round, but we weren’t as consistent as we wanted to be.”
Vancouver dealt with the noise and the atmosphere and prevailed with superior skill.
Ryan Kesler took sole possession of the postseason scoring lead with two assists, and Daniel Sedin, the NHL’s leading scorer during the regular season, got his first goal of the series — all in the first period. Kesler racked up 11 points (five goals, six assists) in the six games.
“This building was electric [Monday] night and we had to work our tails off for every inch out there,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. “[Nashville] is a well-coached team and a well-run organization with great support.”
The Predators responded to the deficit — as they had in their two victories — with an unlikely goal. David Legwand got them within one early in the second period when he scored from a hard angle to the left of goalie Roberto Luongo.
That was all they got, though, in two periods during which they had twice as many shots (18) as the Canucks. In the third, Vancouver tightened and allowed just six shots, one after Nashville faithful delivered their standing ovation during a TV timeout, in this case with 4:38 to play.
“It’s unfortunate we couldn’t get a win at home here for them,” center Mike Fisher said. “That part’s frustrating.”
The Predators rode the emotion of the crowd early and played frenzied, particularly early. That approach forced Vancouver to commit penalties — six in all — none of which resulted in goals. For the series, Nashville was 1-for-21 with the man-advantage.
The Canucks, conversely, converted on one of their three opportunities — that after a questionable call for embellishment against Jordin Tootoo — and maintained sound positioning throughout the contest, even as they were outshot for much of it.
“I thought we played the first two periods as well as we’ve played all in the playoffs,” coach Barry Trotz said. “The first period was a little disturbing because according to our [calculations] and what we track … we were outchancing them 11-2 and we were losing 2-0.
“That’s a hard pill to swallow.”
By virtue of the fact that they advanced to the second round for the first time, the Predators came closer to winning a championship than ever.
Still, the disappointment of a series in which they were outscored a mere 14-11 by the regular season’s best team, made it seem as if they still have a long way to go.
“It sucks when you lose,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “Especially when you had a group of guys like we had who really cared about each other. We wanted to win the Stanley Cup and this was the first time it really seemed like we wanted it.”
Instead, that quest ended in the same arena the last one — and all the others — ended.