A 5-1 victory for the Winnipeg Jets in Game 7 on Thursday night in Nashville saw the visitors advance to the Western Conference Final, while the Predators’ franchise-best season came to an early conclusion.
It never gets any easier to be on the wrong end of a handshake line, and the Predators were left feeling the disappointment of a game that simply didn’t go their way.
“It’s difficult,” Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “It was almost a fluky start more than anything else. Just the goals, the way they went in, it’s a little bit fluky… Not only are [the Jets] a good offensive team but they’re a good defensive team as well, and we just found it difficult to get going the way we might like to.”
In the first period, Tyler Myers and Paul Stastny scored just over two minutes apart, and Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette made the decision to pull starting goaltender Pekka Rinne in favor of Juuse Saros.
Before the opening period was out, P.K. Subban tallied for Nashville on the power play to give the Preds some life, but a second stanza controlled mostly by Winnipeg saw Mark Scheifele give the Jets a 3-1 lead at the 17:50 mark before they tacked on two more in the final frame.
Rinne was particularly disappointed in the Nashville locker room after the fact, feeling he had let the team down with the two goals he surrendered in the first period, a situation especially tough to handle in a Game 7.
“I feel very responsible for our season ending at this point,” Rinne said. “It’s tough to swallow. It’s tough to understand. I can’t point at anything. I felt good and had no injuries and totally healthy. [I had] ups and downs throughout the playoffs. It’s a terrible feeling when you let your teammates down. That’s what happened tonight. It’s tough to swallow.”
But Laviolette and the rest of the Preds were quick to stick up for their netminder, making sure it was known they were owning the Game 7 defeat as a team, not even entertaining the thought of placing the blame on one person.
“This isn’t about Pekka,” Laviolette said. “It didn’t work out today. He shouldn’t talk about things like that on his own; this is on all of us. It was a series we wanted to move forward on, we ran into a good team and they’re moving on.”
And that’s what it came down to – the two best teams in the League, battling through a seven-game series that lived up to the hype. It just didn’t go Nashville’s way.
Now, as the offseason arrives in its very early stages, the Predators will take the coming days to hold exit meetings, to reflect on the past and begin initial preparations for 2018-19 campaign that will be here soon enough.
Of course, they had hoped for more, expected more, it just wasn’t meant to be on this night.
The season may pass, but the dream doesn’t die.
“I’m so proud of this team,” Rinne said. “It’s like a family. It wasn’t a fluke that we won the Presidents’ Trophy. We had such a good season. It’s so hard to wrap it together at this kind of moment, but I love this team.”
“We have a lot of time now to think about it, to heal up and rest,” Subban said. “For us, we’re going to have to use this summer to be even better for next year. We have to go train and rest and recover, get faster and stronger and better and be ready to win a championship next year.
Predators center Mike Fisher did not play in Game 7 due to a lower-body injury. Ryan Hartman replaced Fisher in the lineup.
With an assist on P.K. Subban’s goal, Filip Forsberg has tied not only his career high for playoff points in a single postseason, but he has also tied the franchise’s all-time postseason high (16).
Nashville is now 1-2 in Game 7s in franchise history. This was their first Game 7 on home ice.
Pete Weber’s Postgame Report