If you go back and listen to John Hynes talk during media availability this season, the word you’re going to hear over and over again is “adversity.” More specifically, you’re going to hear him talk about how he wanted the Nashville Predators, before they ever put a skate on the ice this season, to learn how to overcome adversity. Looking back to the beginning and middle of this season, this Predators team faced quite a bit of adversity. The concept of teaching your team to deal with adversity is not an altogether bizarre idea, certainly not for a team in the middle of encountering quite a bit of it. However, laying the groundwork for it long before that adversity is encountered is just a part of building a strong culture in the locker room. And it seems to have paid off, as the Predators learned from that experience and were able to go on a good run of victories and hit their stride toward the middle of the season. But what’s most interesting is seeing how these two teams have had different reactions to the difficulties they’ve faced not in the regular season, but in this series.
More specifically, I’m talking about Rod Brind’Amour, the coach of the Carolina Hurricanes, who complained after Game 3 that the team had to play against not just the Predators, but also the referees!
"We played great. We played hard. We're playing a great team. ... But we're also fighting the refs. That's plain & simple. You can't tell me two games in a row we get seven, eight penalties and they get three. And when the game's this even - it's not right." -Rod@Canes pic.twitter.com/rj6map7urG— Bally Sports: Canes (@CanesOnBally) May 22, 2021
After just one loss against the fourth seed in the Central Division, the head coach of a team that was in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy right up until the last couple of games of the season sent a strong message to the officials that he felt his team was being treated unfairly. As a result, the Predators didn’t get a chance on the power play until the third period of Game 4 and fans were treated to a playoff experience where they saw Eeli Tolvanen take a Hurricane stick to the face, followed by an extended period of time before the referees decided to call a penalty, but then quickly saw the penalty overturned because a Predators stick hit Tolvanen up high first.
But it wasn’t just the referees Brind’Amour was sending a message to—he also sent a very strong message to his team. By complaining, very loudly and very publicly, that the referees had a hand in the Hurricanes’ Game 3 loss, Brind’Amour sent the message to his team that any adversity they faced could be blamed on another source, whether it was the Predators or the on-ice officials, and that he would go to work calling out whoever he felt had caused the miscarriage of justice. And it certainly worked. As I just mentioned, the officiating in Game 4 was blatantly one-sided with obvious calls being missed (Svechnikov’s knee-to-knee) or overturned (Svechnikov’s high stick on Tolvanen). The problem is that his team also received the message. And the message he sent made it sound like there was no possible way his team could have committed that many penalties and as a result, there’s no way they should have lost Game 3.
This kind of messaging combined with this kind of attitude from a head coach can feed into the psyche of a team. And, in spite of a power play drought, the Predators were able to score against the Hurricanes. Something I noticed in person that they didn’t show on the broadcast, was after the Predators scored goals, several Hurricanes players looked up to watch the replay and looked on in disbelief. While I’d like to say that they were just appreciating a beautiful goal, it looked more like the number-one seeded team just couldn’t believe that this Predators team was able to score goals against them at five-on-five. It was almost like they had missed a very important lesson on dealing with adversity. But for all of the disbelief at their misfortune, they were still getting plenty of breaks, they just weren’t capitalizing on all of them like they should have.
However, the Predators, the team that should have been thrown off by the Hurricanes’ sudden and miraculous penalty-free play, seemed unshakeable. And, despite being fed adversity by the boatload, they were playing like they hadn’t noticed...and they were thriving. Where did the team learn this lesson? From their head coach, John Hynes.
Hynes has coached this team to take their lumps and move on and not get wrapped up in the emotions of penalties. When this team faces adversity, they strap their helmets on and get after it. In the Game 4 postgame media availability for John Hynes, he didn’t complain. He didn’t call out of the referees, and he didn’t deviate from the course he’s held all year, which is to rise above adversity by only worrying about controlling what you can control and moving on. They weren’t worried about the lopsided penalty calls all game long because John Hynes taught them how to deal with adversity. By not wasting time blaming the referees for this or that, the Predators were able to give their full attention to their actual opponent on ice, the Carolina Hurricanes. You saw the results of that on the ice Sunday afternoon. The Hurricanes have been able to play at the top of their game all season long when things go their way, but like John Hynes said, “We had to fight to get here. We had to play and coach in adversity. We didn’t get here because we were the darlings of the league. We got here because we clawed and scratched.”
Based on the results of this series so far, any team can shine when things are going your way, but the true measure of a team is how they perform when the cards are stacked against them.