A fter Saturday afternoon’s 1-0 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at Bridgestone Arena, the Nashville Predators are seeing their playoff hopes quickly slip from their grasp.
The Predators managed to hold the NHL’s top team to just 1 goal, but for the 7th time in 39 games, Nashville was shut out.
“It’s disappointing,” Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne said. “It’s a tough loss. We played well. It’s tough when you’re not finding the back of the net. It’s not like we’re not trying – I think the guys are doing a really good job. We’ve been getting chances and had enough power play time to put a couple in there. Obviously, there’s a lot of good goalies and a lot of good defensemen. As a team, I think we played pretty solidly. It was a good effort, but at this point in the season, you can’t help but being disappointed and frustrated.”
A long shot, to be sure, Saturday’s loss officially eliminated the Predators from the Central Division race, with Chicago sitting 22 points out, while the Predators have just 18 more possible.
At the conclusion of Saturday’s games, Nashville sits in 12th place in the Western Conference. They are 4 points behind St. Louis for the 8th and final spot. In able to make the playoffs, they will need to not only catch St. Louis, but also pass Phoenix, Edmonton and Columbus.
“Obviously, you know the standings and everything, but you try not to look at it right now,” Rinne said. “You try to focus on one game at a time. Now it’s tomorrow night. It’s not going to get any easier. We have a pretty big task in our hands if we want to make it in. We have to start winning some games here.”
All 4 of the teams Nashville needs to leapfrog in order to move into 8th have games in hand on Nashville. The Predators have 9 games remaining, while Phoenix, Edmonton and Columbus have 10 left. St. Louis still has 12 games left to play. During that run, the Coyotes face the Oilers once and the Blues once, while the Blues also face the Blue Jackets.
Nashville, meanwhile, has a game left against both Columbus and St. Louis. They also have a two games left against Detroit – the Red Wings sit 5 points away in 7th.
To make matters even more confusing and frustrating for the Predators, they sit 1 point in front of the Dallas Stars, but Dallas has 2 games in hand on Nashville. The Stars make a trip to Bridgestone Arena next Friday.
It could be easy for the Predators to get discouraged and to look ahead to next season – to roll into a game and feel like the mountain to climb is simply too big. However, Rinne says that isn’t the case.
“I don’t think it’s hard to get ready for the games,” Rinne said. “It’s always fun and it’s always a challenge. Especially this year with the kind of schedule we are facing. It’s tough not to look at the standings. It’s tough not to follow the other teams and how they are doing. It’s part of your job. You have to be aware of what’s happening around you and around the league. We still have 9 more games to go and there’s a lot more points on the table.”
With 18 points still available, theoretically, Nashville could still catch 7 of the 8 Western Conference teams. However, the games are not played theoretically. Realistically, the 8th place spot is likely Nashville’s last hope of making the playoffs.
Edmonton and Columbus have 39 points, while Phoenix has 40 and St. Louis has 42. Nashville has 38. Dallas sits on Nashville’s heels with 37.
In order for the Predators to catch these teams, the teams in front of them (and the one directly behind them) also have to lose.
Technically, the Predators still need 5 points to even have a chance of the playoffs, as they do not have the regulation-and-overtime-win (ROW) tiebreaker against St. Louis. Mathematically, the best-case scenario remaining for the Predators is that the Blues finish 0-12, the Coyotes finish 1-9 (with a win over the Blues), the Blue Jackets finish 1-9 (with a win over the Blues), the Oilers finish 1-9 (with a win over the Coyotes), and the Stars finish 2-8 (with wins over Columbus and St. Louis). In this scenario, St. Louis and Phoenix would be tied at 42. Nashville would need a minimum 43 points to get into the playoffs.
Realistically, the teams Nashville is battling are not going to finish 5-47 to close out the season. That’s a given.
However, with 3 games on the horizon for the Predators in the upcoming week, including 2 “4-point” games against St. Louis and Dallas, Nashville should discover fairly quickly where they stand in the playoff hunt.
“We need to be winning these games,” Predators forward Mike Fisher said after Saturday’s game. “There is no doubt we are digging ourselves a hole.”
Photo Credit: Sarah Fuqua