Friday, April 10, 2009
Predators Comeback Season Falls Short
The Nashville Predators half-season attempt to come back from 14th place to make the playoffs came to an abrupt end as they lost to the Wild 8-4 on Friday night in Minnesota.
Thursday night’s amazing comeback win at Detroit appears to have been the Predators last stand before everything went against them in their final game with the Wild. The Predators never gave up under the worst of circumstances and showed the character and persistence that brought them to within one win of a playoff appearance despite being under-manned for the entire course of the season.
Jason Arnott put the Predators ahead with a 1-0 lead at 7:18 in the first and it appeared the magic was still intact. The Wild tied the game a few minutes later on a controversial call where Dan Fritsche scored on a goal after it appeared the play should have stopped when the Preds touched the puck on a delayed penalty. Andrew Burnette then scored on a power play with 27 seconds left in the period to send the Preds to the locker room down 2-1.
The second period was all Wild. Mark-Andre Bergeron put Minnesota ahead 3-1 on an even strength goal at the 4:47 mark. At 15:56, Kim Johnsson scored on the power play to make it a three-point spread.
Jason Arnott, who has tried to carry the team on his back since his return from injury, scored 18 seconds later to make it 4-2. Less than two minutes later Mark-Andre Bergeron scored his second goal of the period on another power play to send the Wild to the locker room with a three-point bulge.
The Predators never gave up. At 10:47 in the third, with the Preds on a five on three power play, Shea Weber made his last stand scoring his 23rd goal of the season to bring the Preds back within two. Unfortunately, 19 seconds later Mikko Koivu scored an unassisted short-handed goal to extend the lead to 6-3.
The team continued to tease Pred nation when Steve Sullivan took a pass from Shea Weber to score with 6:39 left in the game to bring the Preds back within two, 6-4. The Predators fought valiantly as the clock ticked down with Rinne making an early exit to add an extra attacker.
Two empty net goals were the final knife in the heart in the Pred’s season, At the 18:30 mark, Cal Clutterbuck easily scored the first empty netter. Former Predator Marek Zidlicky rolled another puck into the empty net with 17 seconds left to make the final score 8-4, one of the worst shellackings that the Predators have experienced in recent memory.
Jason Arnott’s two goal night was a highlight of the game. His 33rd goal set a Predator’s season record and tied his personal high for goals going back to his rookie season in Edmonton. Late goals by Shea Weber and Steve Sullivan showed the true heart and character of the team. Barry Trotz’s “Band of Brothers” never let down.
The Predator’s penalty kill, which had been ranked as high as third in the league earlier this week, and had been a mainstay in the Pred's bag of tools gave up goals on the Wild’s first three power play attempts, resembling some of the ills the squad suffered early in the season.
Pekka Rinne, who had covered many defensive ills through the season, had far too many defensive breakdowns and turnovers in front of him to keep the Predators in the game against the Wild. Pekka’s frustration was clearly evident and he wasn’t as sharp as he has been throughout the season. This game was more reminiscent of one of Pekka’s early season games where he didn’t fare well.
Officiating never seemed to go our way for much of the season but Friday’s game was the coup de gras. The Wild’s first goal came on a delayed penalty that should have stopped a couple of times prior to the score. For the rest of the game the calls (or lack there of) were uneven and wore thin on the Preds as they tried repeatedly to make a come back.
For the first time since April 2003, The Nashville Predators will not be playing hockey into late April. For many newer fans this will be the first year that they have not seen the team in the playoffs.
Emotionally, as a fan, the roller coaster ride of the last few days has been hard to stomach. On Tuesday, fans were flying high going into the Hawks game, only to be stunned in the first minute of the second period. Winning two on the road seemed like too tall an order even for Barry Trotz with his hat full of rabbits. The miracle comeback on Thursday in Detroit reinvigorated the fan base and set the fans up for the final nail in the coffin when little went as planned in Minnesota. I wasn’t prepared for the season to end this way but we just have to put on our grown up panties and pick a team to follow in the playoffs and move on.
Predator fans everywhere need to offer a big “Thank You” to Barry Trotz and the team for giving us our money’s worth and keeping us on the edge of our seats all season long, even up through the final minutes of the 82nd and final game of the year. The team played hard and never gave up, even under the worst of circumstances.
As the curtain falls on this version of Nashville Predators, we look to next year where there will be many changes and new faces when camp breaks in September.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass