When Jason Arnott scored a goal with 4:16 to play in the first period Monday, he looked upward and gestured with his hands in a manner that clearly said, “Finally.”
No doubt his teammates, coaches and the sellout crowd of 17,113 at Bridgestone Arena thought the same thing.
The truth is, it was too late.
Arnott’s first goal (and point) of the Predators’ Western Conference quarterfinal series against the Chicago Blackhawks came in the sixth game. That he scored another a little more than three minutes later ultimately did not help either.
Arnott and the rest of the Predators’ top point-producing forwards failed to keep pace with their Chicago counterparts throughout the series. That lack of reliable offense was a major reason Nashville was eliminated in six games, the last of which was Monday’s 5-3 defeat.
“We worked all season and we had a great opportunity,” Arnott said. “It’s tough.”
Nashville’s four highest-scoring forwards during the regular season, including Arnott, combined for just 11 points in the series.
Of that group, Martin Erat was the only one with at least one goal and one assist (he had four goals and one assist). Neither Patric Hornqvist nor Steve Sullivan, who tied for the team lead with 51 points, had a goal. Hornqvist had only one assist, due in part to the fact that he sat out four of the six games with an injury. Sullivan had three assists.
Things were only slightly better when the production of J.P. Dumont, fifth on the team in the regular season, was considered over that of Hornqvist. Dumont had two goals and two assists.
In stark contrast, Chicago got consistent and balanced scoring from its top four forwards. Jonathan Toews had a series-high eight points (six goals, two assists), and Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa each had seven. Each of the four had at least one goal and one assist, and between them they scored 14 of their team’s 17 goals.
Three of them — Toews, Sharp and Hossa — each had a game-winning goal, the last of those by Toews in Game 6.
“[Toews] is like that,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “He knows when [games] are on the line. He gets better the bigger the stage. He wants the puck. He has speed, tenacity and he gets better over time.”
In 15 career playoff games for Nashville, Arnott has just six points, well off the pace he has maintained throughout the regular season. Sullivan has scored one goal in 17 postseason appearances as a Predator.
Prior to the series, coach Barry Trotz claimed that one of the Nashville’s assets was that offense could come from anywhere in the lineup because this was a team that did not rely on just one unit to score.
David Legwand did have a team-high seven points (two goals, five assists), which was as many as he had in the final 23 games of the regular season.
Yet when Nashville needed goals, the most likely candidates did not deliver, as evidenced by the fact that the power play converted just once in 27 opportunities.
“We’ll have to evaluate everything,” Trotz said. “… Our top guys are on the power play. Maybe we’re missing the boat. Maybe we [need to] find more specific roles for guys and that type of thing.
“… We, as a group, I think learned a lot from this series. We played a very good Chicago team that has had aspirations of winning the Cup all year and are one of the Cup favorites. They have a real deep lineup.”
One that was really productive at the top.