What A Difference A Week Makes
By Greg @GreekGoalie35
No reasonable person thought making the playoffs was in question, but it became official on Saturday as the Preds beat Barry Trotz for the second time this season, clinching their first post-season appearance in three years. The way the team heads into the playoffs however, looks far different than it did just a week ago.
Going into last week, the Preds faced their toughest stretch of games since their back-to-backs in southern California. The daunting task of facing Montreal, Tampa Bay, Washington and Calgary in a six day span, could have pushed the Preds out of home-ice advantage in the first round, let alone the race for the division crown. Chicago on the other hand faced Carolina, Philadelphia, Columbus and Winnipeg. Nashville was a mere 2 points ahead of the Blackhawks heading into action Tuesday, with Chicago having a game in hand to boot. The next 5 days were a dream scenario for PredNation. An OT victory over Montreal, was followed up by Chicago getting waxed on the road vs the Flyers (oddly, their 11th straight regular season loss in Philadelphia). On Thursday, the Preds got some puck luck early and held on for a 3-2 win at Tampa forcing Chicago to defeat Columbus to keep pace. Instead, the Hawks got trounced by the Jackets 5-2 at the United Center on Friday. The weekend began with a brunch start time against Trotz and the Capitals that saw Nashville chase Washington netminder Braden Holtby within 15 minutes, before escaping with a 4-3 victory, officially punching their ticket to the post-season. Unfortunately, Sunday saw a reversal of fortune as Chicago tallied late to defeat a desperate Winnipeg team, while the Preds returned home after celebrating with a flat performance against Calgary, who jumped back into playoff position with the win.
St. Louis played just twice, splitting their games last week (losing to Columbus on the second of back-to-backs no less), catapulting Smashville back to the top of the Central. So, instead of a scenario where the Preds are scratching and clawing with Chicago and Minnesota to stay out of the wild card, they’ve distanced themselves a bit and have the inside track to their first ever division title.
The biggest story however may be the health of Captain Shea Weber, who missed the last two games to a lower-body injury. As is usually the case, team officials are pretty ‘mum’ on his status and how long he’ll be out. The good news is that he hasn’t been placed on IR as of yet, so it’s more likely he’ll return sooner than later. The Preds have also been without the services of alternate captain James Neal during this span, though the word on him is that he should be returning before the playoffs. All the fancy stats or eye-ball tests during the season don’t mean much if you are riddled with injuries when the post-season begins.
It’s difficult to say whether the season will be considered a failure if the team bows out in the first 2 rounds, but considering the low expectations by most people heading into the season, they’re already playing with house money. Now that’s not to say any fan should just be satisfied with making the playoffs, you can ask any Blues fan about that. One thing is certain…. Bridgestone Arena will once again be “The Coliseum” for the first time in 3 seasons come April 15th.