This one hurts, folks.
It hurts because the Nashville Predators had scratched, clawed, and hustled their way to a dominating position in this 1st-round series against Chicago. In the final moments of Game 5 they had a one-goal lead and the man advantage. Given the situation, you'd have to say that they had a 99% chance to win that game, and probably a 75% chance to win the series at that point.
From there, however, they played probably their worst 17 minutes of hockey this season, dropping Game 5 in stupefying fashion, then giving up three early goals to the Blackhawks during the first period tonight, leaving them behind 3-1. Despite some admirable tenacity to try and get back into it (and an outstanding effort by the sellout crowd at Bridgestone Arena), this was a self-made hole that the Preds couldn't dig themselves out of, eventually losing 4-3.
Once again, we're left watching the rest of the playoffs from the outside.
Follow after the jump for reaction, and check the video widget on the right-hand sidebar for the highlights...
Over the coming days we'll have time to celebrate, criticize, evaluate players, and all the rest of that, but for now, some thoughts on tonights game:
- Give full marks to the Blackhawks - they blocked a ton of shots, won battles to loose pucks, and seemed to outnumber Nashville at the point of attack all too often. They simply played winning playoff hockey. Also give credit to the bloggers and readers over at Second City Hockey. It's been a fun series, and the inter-blog banter has, I think, added to the experience on both sides.
- Give double-full marks to the fans tonight, who continued cheering and urging the Preds on even as hope dwindled.
- Watch Shea Weber's goal that tied the game at 1-1 early on. Notice anything? He didn't wind up for the full slapper, he just slipped a quick wrister on goal. That's a savvy play that he needs to mix in more often.
- I don't know what to make of that second Chicago goal. Yes, it was fluky the way it redirected off Kane's skate, but I hate the way goalies cheat and come out to play the puck early like that.
- Martin Erat put in a gritty game tonight, going the extra mile to create chances.
- It was also good to see Jason Arnott finally chip in. I am a huge Arnott backer, but he ended up with a lousy series.
- The hip-check that Dan Hamhuis dished out on Dustin Byfuglien just prior to the 3rd goal is one for the career highlight reel.
- After having tied things up 3-3, however, it took the Preds only 24 seconds to take a penalty, then give up a goal 7 seconds in. That was an absolute buzz-killer, and represented the goal that ended the Preds' season.
- Jordin Tootoo finally made a difference in this game, setting up Weber's goal and firing up the crowd with an energetic shift just prior to the Hamhuis hip-check noted above.
- Nick Spaling for a full-time PK job next season? I'm down with that.
- While many fans didn't want to hear this sentiment aired just hours before a make-or-break game, I (shockingly) agree with George Plaster's tirade this afternoon that this team lacks the leadership to get things done in high-pressure situations. I'll get into this in more detail later this week, but the Game 5 debacle was only the latest episode wherein the Preds have worked their way into a major opportunity, only to trip over their own feet.
I think it's safe to say that one's feelings about this season are built upon the expectations coming in. In my opinion, too much is made of the budget issues, that this team had above-average NHL talent, and was capable of more than this. We all understand that this team can't go out and spend their way to success, but does that mean this is the best we can expect?
I, for one, don't believe so.