It was an unpredictable season from the very start, but the Nashville Predators closed out their season in a predictable manner.
For the fourth season in row they lost the quarterfinals series-deciding game on their home ice at the Sommet Center. For the second time, they lost to Detroit in Game 6. They have also lost to San Jose two times in Game 5 appearances.
Sunday afternoon the Predators’ season ended less than four minutes into the third period as center Jiri Hudler blasted a shot from the right circle that gave the No.1-seeded Detroit Red Wings a 2-0 lead. With five seconds left defenseman Brian Rafalski shot the puck into the open for a 3-0 final score.
No number of “Let’s go Predators” cheers, no matter how loud, were going to change anything at that point.
Defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom scored the first goal for the Red Wings, a short-handed long distance shot that bounced high off the ice and into the net at 13:44 of the second period. This was his third short-handed goal in a playoff series.
“I was just trying to float one in there,” said Lidstrom. “I took something off of the shot just to see if I could land the puck in front, just to go for the bounce.”
The mere fact the Predators qualified for a playoff spot was improbable enough. A purge of high-priced talent, questions about the franchise’s future in Nashville, an ownership change and a long list of injuries all combined to make the 2007-2008 season a rugged one.
“After the first eight games of the season everyone thought we would be getting the first overall draft pick,” said Predators center Scott Nichol. “This was very much a storybook season. Too bad it had to end in the middle of the book.”
But this was a team that could not find its offense, especially in the last two games. The sellout crowd Sunday was as loud as any this season, but had little to cheer for after Hudler’s goal.
In Game 5 and Game 6 the Predators managed only one goal. With center Jason Arnott out and centers David Legwand and Scott Nichol playing with injuries, the youth of the Predators started showing.
“We were a little challenged because of personnel injuries,” said Predators coach Barry Trotz. “But Detroit did a great job of checking us and we weren’t able to get enough support on the puck. We need more poise and that comes with experience.
“Detroit had their checking game going. And we denied ourselves many chances to shoot the puck. Detroit’s philosophy is to throw everything at the net and create that havoc. We were able to do that in the first period, but we got away from it. That is something we have to ingrain into our culture.”
Goaltender Dan Ellis, who had faced a career-high 54 shots in Friday night’s 2-1 overtime loss in Game 5, again was shelled in Game 6 as he turned back 40 of 42 shots. He won two games in his first ever playoff series.
“Right now this is difficult,” Ellis said. “We had some goals we wanted to reach and some things we wanted to do. We wanted to get our first playoff win on the road. We wanted to get our first win of a playoff series. But we weren’t able to do it.”
Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood, who had back-to-back wins in the series, stopped 20 shots.
“We really didn’t generate a lot of offensive chances against Osgood,” said Nichol. “He basically saw the puck. We didn’t have too much traffic in front of him and when we did he scrambled a little bit. We had more traffic in front of Dominik Hasek.
“They stymied us. We couldn’t get in. We couldn’t get the forecheck. They can really throw the puck from defenseman to defenseman. That is their bread and butter.”
Despite the way the season ended, this team will be remembered more for what it overcame than the losses it sustained.
“We battled strong until the end,” Trotz said. “I told them they could hold their heads high and be proud of what they have accomplished this year.
“This was sort of a special group. In a way, it was a ragtag group. It was easy to fall in love with them because no one really gave us a chance. We scratched and clawed to get into the playoffs and then continued to scratch and claw in the playoffs.”