The Nashville Predators were deeper, more talented, more experienced and most likely more motivated when they entered the 2012 NHL playoffs than at any other time in franchise history.
Yet they were sent home after five games in the second round because they were less resilient than they were a year ago. For all that this year’s team had going for it, it lacked the ability to come from behind and keep games going.
“The group of guys we had here is a great group of guys,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “It’s too bad we couldn’t do anything with it. It’s very disappointing.”
These Predators allowed the first goal in all five games they lost this postseason. In three of those five, including the 2-1 loss Monday at Phoenix that ended things, they trailed from the moment that first one crossed the line all the way to the finish.
Of the eight teams that made it to the conference semifinals, only Nashville and Washington have yet to win a game in which they allowed the first goal. Plus, the Predators were the only Western Conference team that did not come from behind to win a game in the opening round.
They never scored more than one goal in the third period of any of those games and none of those goals came in the final four minutes of the period.
“I think we were confident in our team,” left win Colin Wilson said. “I think we had a really good team. … We had a lot of talent in this room, a lot of hard work. So, we weren’t expecting it to end like this and it’s too bad.”
A year ago, Nashville never was out of a game.
Its first run to the second round of the postseason included overtime victories against both Anaheim and Vancouver, in which it rallied late in regulation. Each was on the road, no less.
Shea Weber tied it 3-3 with 35.3 seconds to play in the critical fifth game of the series with the Ducks. Jerred Smithson then got the game-winner in overtime.
In the second game of the Vancouver series, Ryan Suter scored with 1:07 to play in regulation, which evened things at 1-1. Matt Halischuk finally ended that one in the second overtime.
Even in the Predators’ lone overtime loss of the 2011 playoffs (Game 3 against Vancouver), they were the ones who forced overtime. In that case, Joel Ward’s third-period goal forced things beyond regulation.
Wilson scored Nashville’s only goal in Monday’s elimination game with 5:59 left in the contest but failed to get another.
“We had them for four chances in the third period,” Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. “… They have some high skill on that team. If you allow them any chances, they are going to take advantage. We tried to make the chances that they did get as contested as possible, and we had a lot of guys blocking shots from the blue line. We made it muddy in front our net. The mud won out in the end.”
In the first round, Phoenix overcame Chicago, which scored in the final 15 seconds of regulation and forced overtime in each of the first two games and then extended Game 4 when it scored with 1:26 to go in regulation.
Plus, hours before the Predators were eliminated on Monday, the New York Rangers took a 3-2 lead in their series with the Washington Capitals with an overtime victory. The Rangers forced the extra period when they scored with fewer than six seconds left in regulation.
Those things are a part of playoff hockey but were not included in Nashville’s 2012 postseason performance. That, despite the fact that it led the Western Conference and was second overall to Pittsburgh during the regular season in winning percentage when it trailed after two periods (25.9).
“Chemistry is a delicate thing,” coach Barry Trotz said. “As I say, sometimes you can add skill or talent and all that. Does it come together at the right time? Or does it not come together at the right time? You can be a chemistry professor all you want, but you’re dealing with human beings and the human factor on both sides.
“We had some great chances. … We just couldn’t bury our chances.”
Particularly when it counted.