VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Every other year in the history of the franchise, the Nashville Predators watched as the second round of the NHL playoff commenced.
For two periods Thursday, things were not much different.
“That wasn’t the game we were used to playing, for sure,” center Mike Fisher said. We weren’t skating too well on the forecheck, playing with the puck.
“… We just kind of sat back and did too much watching.”
The Predators took their first step into the conference semifinals like a child attempting to enter a swimming pool one toe at a time. They certainly did not dive right in and, consequently, wasted Pekka Rinne’s best performance of the postseason in a 1-0 loss to the Vancouver Canucks before a sellout crowd of 18,860 at Rogers Arena.
“We didn’t even show up [Thursday] night,” captain Shea Weber said. “I think it was embarrassing for us. It’s not the style of hockey we play. We need to be better — a lot better.”
The Canucks got the game’s only goal with 7:46 to play in the second period when Chris Higgins got a shot under the crossbar.
The truth is that they certainly could have — and probably should have — been on the board well before that. They outshot the Predators 26-11 though the first two periods, won 22 of the first 25 faceoffs and 61 percent of them for the game.
Rinne held up through it all and gave his team a chance. He finished with 29 saves, including six each against twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin, two of the league’s top four scorers during the regular season, but did not get enough help from his teammates.
It was the sixth time in franchise history the Predators were held scoreless in a postseason game, but the first time they lost 1-0.
“Let’s be honest, we probably didn’t deserve to win that game,” coach Barry Trotz said. “For two periods, our compete level was not what it should be. We weren’t relentless and weren’t resilient. … In the third, we were a little more dangerous.”
Because of Rinne, Nashville never was more than a goal away from making things interesting, and in the third period there were a couple times when things nearly got to that point.
Fisher had a shorthanded breakaway with 14:41 to go but Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo stopped him. Weber then had a look at an open side of the net as a one-timer left his stick during a power play with 4:21 to go. The puck sailed harmlessly over the top of the goal.
“I had a wide open net and managed to dump it in the corner,” Weber said. “I can’t be missing chances like that. That was a great opportunity for our team to tie it up after a very poor performance by us.”
Nashville actually limited Vancouver to just four shots over the final 20 minutes and managed nine of its own. Absent a goal, though, it was hardly the type of impression the Predators wanted to make for their conference semifinal debut.
“We’re pretty determined to go deep. Our goal is to win this series,” Trotz said. “Our compete level has to be a lot higher at this level. We have to bring our ‘A’ game and we had a lot of guys who didn’t bring their ‘A’ games.
“We were beaten in almost every facet of the game.”
All of that happened with national television audiences in the United States and Canada tuned in for the first contest of the second round of these playoffs, and the only game scheduled on this day. Not to mention the fact that there were players for 22 other teams sitting in the same position the Predators were every other year.
In the face of all that scrutiny, the Predators simply were not much to see.
“At this point in the season, it shouldn’t be nerves,” center Jerred Smithson said. “We’re all pros in here. We know what it takes. We didn’t have the jump right out of the gates. We have to be better in front of Pekka. We can’t let him see that much rubber and quality chances.
“… We can only control what we can control and that’s our work ethic. And it wasn’t there to start the game.”