NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Hockey’s back. The postseason is here. The Predators are ready after using the NHL’s pause to reset their up and down season. And they looked so good in Thursday’s showcase game win over the Stars. And the Coyotes looked terrible and seem outmanned.
Everything was looking good until it wasn’t. All the momentum the Preds seemed to have entering the postseason disappeared with a ricocheted puck in the back of their net and a first period onslaught by the Coyotes that left too big of a hole for Nashville to dig out of in game one.
And now the Predators will have to dig themselves out of a hole in this best-of-five Western Conference qualifying series or their season will be shut down for good this time.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s shot hit Kyle Turris’s skate and then deflected off of Matt Duchene’s shoulder and over new starting goaltender Juuse Saros for the game’s first goal 7:59 in. It was the type of unfortunate puck luck that can derail a game, but shouldn’t. The Preds needed to respond.
“We had a tough bounce on the first goal and I thought that did give Arizona some energy,” Predators coach John Hynes said. “They put us on our heels a bit, but we have to have a stronger response.”
Instead, they let things snowball. The Coyotes scored twice more in the next 7:42. Christian Dvorak pounded in a Phil Kessel rebound for a 2-0 lead. Then it was Clayton Keller left all alone in the slot to cash in on one of six power plays Nashville gifted Arizona.
The Predators were sent to the box for seven penalties in all. Often times stifling their own momentum as they tried to battle back from a pair of three goal deficits.
“We definitely have to be more disciplined, we’re well aware of that,” Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “Going in the next game that’s going to be a focus, but four months off (playing) your first real game. (Still) there’s no excuse.”
Filip Forsberg scored two power play goals, but also made a careless pass with the man advantage that was intercepted by Michael Grabner who then beat Saros with a breakaway for a 4-1 lead.
Penalties and giveaways are not a good recipe in the playoffs and they spoiled the first postseason start of Saros, who got the call in net after a strong regular season. Saros became the first Predator not named Pekka Rinne to start a postseason game since 2008, snapping Rinne’s 89 game streak of consecutive starts.
Besides the rocky start, Saros acquitted himself well in his leading role, stopping 33 of the 37 shots he faced. The goals he allowed were hardly his fault. A deflected puck. A close range rebound. An open shot from the slot. And Grabner’s breakaway.
Saros give the Predators a chance to get back in the game with two third period goals, but the rally ended there. And now Nashville faces a 1-0 series deficit with what amounts to be essentially a must-win Tuesday in game two.
“We can’t do anything about game one now, we’re just looking to game two,” Forsberg said. “We’ll have a good day tomorrow and think about what we did well and what we can do better. There’s no time to think about what could happen, we’re just looking to game two.”
The excitement isn’t completely gone. But the honeymoon return to hockey is over. The Predators need to right the ship quickly or their bubble will go pop, and they will be on their way home.