It was clear it was a bad draw from the very beginning, and in the end it was. The Nashville Predators played their hardest, their fastest, their best hockey of the season, and it was not enough as they fell in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the seventh time in eight trips to the playoffs that has happened and the second to Chicago.
It was a Chicago team just getting back their most skilled offensive performer. Patrick Kane scored three goals in the series and was the menace he has always been. But the Predators were not fazed.
In game one, Nashville lost their best forward in Mike Fisher, then a 3-0 lead ultimately falling 4-3 in double overtime. But the Predators were not fazed. In game two, Nashville lost their captain in Shea Weber to a knee injury throwing the backline into chaos. They still won the game 6-2, but the disorganization cost them game three in Chicago 4-2. But the Predators were not fazed.
In game four, Nashville lost a pair of one-goal leads then played past 1:15 am before falling in triple overtime 3-2 to go down 3-1 in the series coming back home. But the Predators were not fazed. In game five, Nashville got Fisher back and played their most complete game winning 5-2 with Filip Forsberg registering the first playoff Hat Trick in Predators history. Game six saw a dazzling display early as Nashville sprinted to a quick 2-0 lead, then 3-1, before the inevitable happened, with Chicago winning 4-3. Still, the Predators were not fazed then either.
They were simply beaten, no more and no less.
Chicago has had largely the same group for several years on a run that saw them win Stanley Cups in 2010 and in 2013, and getting as far as the seventh game of the Western Conference Final in 2014. They are led by the third winningest coach in NHL history, Joel Quenneville—and they know playoff hockey. Nashville is still learning, and they were dealt so many harsh lessons in this series.
This Nashville team fulfilled what was their full potential in this 2015 playoff experience, and they played the best that was possible. They played a great Chicago team on even terms, outscoring them, outshooting them, and outhitting them for the series. But winning at playoff time is not about how many, but which ones, and when.
The future is very bright for this team. This should certainly be only the beginning. The harsh lessons must be learned not the least of which is playing a full 82 next regular season. Championship teams may slump, but they do not and cannot last an entire quarter of the season—and never the last quarter of the season. Every single game means something to the final result. It should be pointed out that division champion St. Louis also lost in the first round, to Minnesota in six games (who will play the ‘Hawks next).
Mike Fisher and Mike Ribeiro are free agents this offseason, and each are critical to re-sign. Look for 2014 first-round pick Kevin Fiala, and Steve Moses to make an impact next season. Moses scored 36 goals in Russia’s KHL this season. Nashville needs more skill to go with the youthful experience gained this season. With these pieces in place, there is no reason to believe the Predators cannot be a strong contender to win the Stanley Cup next season.