A week and a half ago it looked like the Nashville Predators' season started slipping away.
The team was just one point out of the last wild card spot, but they had only won twice in 10 games. A daunting road trip through Western Canada loomed, and the Predators faced the unenvious task of having to put together any kind of winning streak to keep from tumbling further down the standings.
They responded by sweeping the four games and entering the All-Star Break in playoff position.
Games were won in every possible way. Some had lots of offense, others displayed grind-it-out defense. The first two games were over before the final buzzer, the last two were in question until the last possible second. But they won, and by the end of the trip the team looked like they were playing better that at any point in the last few months.
Now the All-Star Break comes to give some much needed rest for the road-weary players, but it also comes just as the team is staring to get into a groove they haven't seen yet this year. So do the players view that as a good thing or a bad thing?
"I think it’s good for everybody," said Pekka Rinne. "It’s been a lot of games, especially this month we’ve been on the road all the time. It’s nice to have a little breather. Guys get to travel somewhere and do their thing and kind take a breather for a few days. I think it’s going to help us."
He isn't kidding. Of the 12 games Nashville played in January, nine were on the road including two trips of four games. That's enough to make anyone sick of hotels and commercial flights, but somehow the Predators were able to put that behind them and dominate their final stretch in Canada.
Part of that was the play of Rinne himself. Mired in one of the worst statistical seasons he's had in his career, the Finnish netminder started three of the four road games and stopped 77 of the 80 shots he faced. He only gave up one goal in each appearance. Carter Hutton followed in his footsteps in his start, posting a .963 Sv% against the Calgary Flames.
Goaltending has been one of the worst aspects of Nashville's season, so to see both players playing well at the same time is a welcomed change of pace.
James Neal echoed his teammate's sentiment about the break coming at the right time.
"I think it’s a great thing," the All-Star forward said. "You know, like I said before the buzz around this city with the All-Star Game, everyone gets a little break and just put hockey behind them for a second or a few days and then come back refreshed and ready to go."
"Ending the break the way we did is a good feeling and guys will be exited to come back and start playing again. You know when you’re losing and things aren’t going well, having a break the first thing on your mind is hockey. Being able to win the way we did then have a little break is good for us."
They also don't have to travel again for a while. Nashville plays its first four games after the break in the friendly and comfy confines of Bridgestone Arena. Overall, eight of their 13 contests in February are at home. They survived their toughest stretch of the season, and now have the schedule on their side to continue the groove they started in Winnipeg.