It had been a long walk for the Predators since 2006 when they finished second in the west with 109 points. Eight long years passed where they fought every year just to make the playoff dance, missing once to make the cut. In 2014, with an influx of youth on the blueline and between the pipes, they had a team that could finally wish for a better ending.
At the start of the season, while they were confident about making the playoffs, they were not quite certain they could beat the perennial central champions, the all-mighty Blues. Still, they were set on a course to reach at least 100 points for the second time in their history.
A strong early season gave the Predators confidence in what they could achieve and they started piling up wins, knowing they could beat any team in the league. Taking the early lead in the division, and the western conference, they were glad to sit atop. Still, the Blues weren’t far behind with their scoring prowess and the Predators knew they had to keep pushing.
They did hang on to that lead until the very last game of the year, when the Blues were just one point behind after a convincing streak of wins. And so the game began, Nashville knowing they had to win or tie the game to capture their first division banner and the west conference championship. The Blues took the lead in the second period scoring from the blueline to make it 1-0. Then the Predators tied the game 1-1 on a Legwand goal, pushing the game to overtime. Unfortunately, Streit took a penalty during overtime and the Blues powerplay scored the winning goal. As a result, both teams finished the year with 111 points, but the Blues had the tie-breaker which let them win yet another banner.
This last game sent the Predators down to the 4th position, due to the playoff system in the league where division leaders finish 1-3 regardless of their point total. This placed the Predators against the hottest team in the league, the Oilers who were on a nearly 10 games winning streak.
Still, Nashville management had faith that the Predators could beat the Oilers. They worked out a game plan which would have them put pressure on the Oilers defense while containing their offense. Looking at the stats, the strategy proved fruitful: the Predators outshot the Oilers in every game of the serie by an average of 7 shots per game. Unfortunately, the team couldn’t seem to capitalize on their scoring chances. While the Predators had a scoring percentage of 12% during the regular season, they only achieved a 7% scoring percentage during the playoffs. Profiting from the lack of finish showed by Nashville, the Oilers came back in the serie to push it to game 7. Each team exchanged goals during the game to end the third period tied at 3-3. Once again, the Predators headed to overtime in a critical moment, the last game of the opening playoff round. Just like how their season ended, Iginla took a penalty and the Oilers used that opportunity to score and win the game.
This is how a great regular season for the Predators was tainted in the end with two overtime losses at the worst moment, taking away their hopes of a banner and a cup. Heading into the summer, both the players and GM will have to shake off that sour ending and get ready for next season.