To help you overcome the disappointing result of the Predators' series against the Blackhawks, its time to re-live some of the highlights of the 2009-10 season. In the end, Nashville didn't advance any further than they have before- but it was exciting nonetheless, and provided many moments worth remembering.
Below are what I believe to be the top ten moments from the campaign. Did I miss any? Disagree with the order? Jump into the comments with your opinion!
10. Nashville defensemen stand out on international stage
Nashville fans know that it was nothing new, but the Winter Olympics in February proved to be a coming out party of sorts for Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Weber, paired with Scott Niedermayer, led the Canadians in ice time and was named to the all-tournament team. He scored twice and had five assists, and lent us one of the tournament's better moments: putting a puck through the net via his now legendary slap shot.
Suter, though less flashy, was equally effective. His partner on defense, Brian Rafalski, was named to the all-tournament team alongside Weber, and I doubt that 'Raffy' would've had that opportunity were it not for the unwavering presence of Suter. Ryan Suter also led his team in ice time while serving as an alternate captain.
One of (I thought) the more underreported stories of the year, the Predators' top remaining (not counting full time NHLer Colin Wilson) forward prospect Blake Geoffrion of Brentwood, Tennessee was voted the nation's top college hockey player. He played in the national title game with Wisconsin, and scored two goals for the Milwaukee Admirals in their playoff series before spraining his ankle.
8. The 'Legwand Hat Trick'/Hat trick week
On November 21, 2009, reports trickled in that David Legwand would miss that night's game due to the birth of his child. Fine, we said- obviously more important than hockey. It was surprising, then, when Legwand reported for duty ten minutes before warmups. Not only did 'Leggy' play, he starred. He tallied a shorthanded goal, assist, shootout winner, and a baby all in the span of about four hours. Thus the 'Legwand Hat Trick' was born.
In 2008-9, the Predators only recorded one hat trick- Jason Arnott in the 8-0 drubbing of Detroit. On December 8th and 14, Martin Erat and Steve Sullivan notched hat tricks against the Vancouver Canucks (4-2 win) and Columbus Blue Jackets (5-3 win). December, coincidentally, was also the month we started realizing that this team had a real quality to them.
7. David Poile works his magic
As the trade deadline drew nearer, fans began to wonder if the Predators would again sit idly by and watch other teams improve. That proved not to be the case. While no blockbuster moves were made, some extremely savvy ones were. Poile fleeced Calgary and Edmonton, acquiring super-utility man Dustin Boyd for a 4th round pick and power play quarterback Denis Grebeshkov for a 2nd. Combine that with recalling rookie spark Colin Wilson and it was a deadline with a passing grade.
6. Streaking through November
After a completely putrid month of October, it seemed as if the cynics (read: mainstream media) had been correct- the Predators just didn't have the stuff to compete for a playoff spot this year. So when the Preds topped the Blues on the 14th of the 11th month, you wouldn't have been blamed for being skeptical. They then promptly reeled off wins against Montreal, San Jose, New Jersey, Columbus, Detroit, and Colorado in succession to push themselves ahead in the standings.
5. Pekka Rinne pitches four shutouts in six games
There was a time when the starting goaltender position was up for grabs. Barry Trotz continually rotated between Rinne and Dan Ellis, with varying results. Coming out of the Olympic break, though, Trotz handed the keys to Rinne, which paid off in a huge way. From March 12 to 27, Rinne put up four donuts in perhaps the single most dominating stretch of goaltending in the NHL this year. As March ended, 'Peks' had sported a 9-3 record, 1.89 GAA, and a .934 save percentage.
The Predators' consistent lack of a premier goal scorer has long been the bane of fans' existence, and there was little fuss when David Poile drafted a Swedish forward with the very last pick in the 2005 draft. Even less fuss was made when he underperformed and bounced between Milwaukee and Nashville like a yo-yo in 2008-9, because after all, he was 'Mr. Irrelevant'.
So when 'Horn Dog' exploded onto the scene by becoming the Predators' first prospect to score thirty goals in a season, Nashville was justifiably delighted. Hornqvist was willing to do all the dirty work to get a marker, whether it be stand down a Shea Weber shot or get clocked in the face by Mike Commodore. Nashville's biggest priority this offseason is re-signing him; and who knows...maybe he'll pot fifty next year.
3. Predators gut punched by San Jose, pick themselves up off the mat
When a playoff spot was still up for grabs, Nashville came into San Jose hoping to steal a point or two from the West leading Sharks. Through two periods, they had played an absolutely perfect road game and led 4-2. Everything came crashing down in the third after Manny Malhotra scored via a goal that was probably kicked in. The final tally was 8-5, but it didn't feel that close.
It was here when we would finally find out just how much character this edition of Predators had. They had two choices: a) sulk and come out flat the next night, or b) forget the whole thing. Thankfully there was a game against Anaheim to get to, which started Pekka Rinne's run of shutouts. The Predators won six straight (Anaheim, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Columbus, St. Louis) and essentially cemented a spot in the postseason for the fifth time in six years.
For me, this was the most satisfying victory of the season. The Predators went into Joe Louis Arena in Detroit needing a point in one of the last two games of the year to solidify a playoff spot. They gave up a demoralizing extra attacker goal to Pavel Datsyuk late, but Ryan Suter struck just moments into the extra frame on a beautifully placed shot past Jimmy Howard. While Nashville was unable to finish ahead of the Red Wings in the standings, it was immensely pleasing to clinch over a team that is the consensus for most hated around the fan base.
Though it may seem like a small victory, one of the Predators' stated goals before the season started was to win their first road playoff game. When they drew the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, it seemed unlikely that it would be possible given one of the most intimidating venues in the sport. When J.P. Dumont slid his second goal past Antti Niemi, the candle of hope was officially lit. One tension filled period later, Jerred Smithson shot the puck into an empty net, and we believed. The euphoria didn't last long, but it was truly a watershed moment in Nashville Predators history.