The look says it all. Nashville Predators forward Gabriel Bourque appears despondent as the Phoenix Coyotes celebrate following Martin Hanzal’s second period goal Sunday in the Coyotes’ Game 2 victory over Nashville at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, AZ. Down 2-0 in their second round playoff matchup, the Preds must now find a way to bounce back as the series moves to Nashville with games this week on Wednesday and Friday nights at Bridgestone Arena. (Photo: Ross D. Franklin/AP)
Was It OVER When the Germans Bombed Pearl Harbor?
If Amerinadian, of the Detroit Red Wings-centric blog, Winging It In Motown will forgive my blatant plagerization of his brilliant headline, quoting John ‘Bluto’ Blutarsky’s miscarriage of historical fact from the movie Animal House, I wish to play off the irony surrounding the Nashville Predators’ postseason fortunes so far, and hopefully point PredsNation in a slightly different emotional direction, as we await Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Western Conference Semifinals at Bridgestone Arena this Wednesday night.
To those Preds fans who are still seeing red after Friday and Sunday night’s two-game miscarriage of Nashville hockey versus the Phoenix Coyotes, resulting in the 0-2 series hole in which the home team now suddenly finds itself, I would commend a couple of questions to ponder, along with an observation.
Did you really think this was going to be easy? And if so, why?
Or perhaps you haven’t been paying attention to the fact that during the Dave Tippett era in Phoenix, the Preds are a thoroughly unimpressive, 5-6-1 against the Coyotes in the regular season since 2009-10.
Oh, wait. I get it. You thought that because the ‘Yotes had financial and attendance problems, and because they were almost moved to Canada a couple of years ago, that they’d be sort of a pushover — ‘cuz non-traditional market hockey teams with financial, ownership, and attendance problems really can’t be taken seriously, right? I mean, they can’t be as good as the Preds, a team who not long ago battled through those exact same issues, could they?
Guess what? They could, and they should. Why? Because Phoenix has hasn’t been modeling themselves after the Boston Bruins for the past five years; they’ve been modeling themselves after the Nashville Predators.
The Coyotes have now fully exorcised the demons of the Wayne Gretzky era in the Valley of the Sun, which plunged the once-consistently successful franchise into nearly a decade of darkness. In 2007, they decided to go a different way — The Predators’ Way of David Poile and Barry Trotz.
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. You’ll forgive the Preds if they don’t feel all that flattered, but shame on them if they’re the least bit surprised. And given their response to the Coyotes’ play in the first two games of this series, there’s plenty of shame to dole out.
Third-Generation Role Model
Just as Preds’ General Manager, David Poile has freely admitted that he has modeled Nashville’s hockey team-building efforts after the Detroit Red Wings, Phoenix GM, Don Maloney revealed recently that upon taking the job in 2007, he decided The Team That Gretzky Built needed a new role model.
In a story previewing the Preds /Coyotes series last Friday, NHL.com Correspondent Jerry Brown quoted Maloney as attributing Nashville’s example as a franchise that has risen from trying circumstances, with its strong work ethic and philosophy of strength from the goaltender out, as a worthy model for the Coyotes going forward.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve looked at them as a model for us,” Maloney said. “Nashville managed their payroll well, they have a great coach much like ours, great goaltending and they got the most out of what they had.
“We really are mirror images of each other, quite frankly, when it comes to style, commitment and work ethic. You don’t get a free night when you play Nashville, and we feel the same is true with the Coyotes. This should be a very interesting series.”
A true statement, indeed, and fascinating — not so much in the way the Coyotes have played, but in the way the Preds have responded. They’ve exhibited a close similarity to the way that other teams respond to them when they’re on their game.
A Taste of Their Own Medicine
Thus far, the Coyotes have been relentless; bending but never breaking — a longstanding characteristic of Trotz’s teams. Nashville on the other hand has broken down numerous times — particularly after scoring to either tie or pull to within a goal of the Coyotes, only to allow Phoenix to quickly answer and regain momentum. Three times this weekend, Nashville gave up a quick goal to Phoenix, at intervals of 5:08, :30, and 2:43 following the Preds’ own scores.
This has actually been a lingering problem we’ve seen displayed by Predators teams for a few years now, but never in the playoffs, and never in the epidemic proportions witnessed in this series. Just when they’ve thought they were back in the driver’s seat, they’ve relaxed and managed to plow straight into another telephone pole.
The Predators are reacting exactly the way they want their opponents to react to them — to lose concentration and become frustrated; to press and hopefully make mistakes. Nashville has been knocked off their game because the Coyotes are out-playing them at their own game.
Preds’ goaltender Pekka Rinne can’t be expected to be Superman all of the time. I’ve always believed that a goalie — no matter who he is — is only 70% as good as the defense around him. And to that end, the Preds have failed Rinne miserably thus far in this series.
Phoenix now believes they have found Pekka’s Kryptonite: crashing the net with impunity — and who could blame them? Nashville has done little to stop them in the series’ first two games; and they won’t abandon that strategy until the Predators make it impossible for them to employ it. That is perhaps the only certainty remaining in this series.
The Preds have to start using the body and their sticks more successfully or this will indeed be a short series.
Gut Check Time
Throughout the previous eight playoff series in their history, Nashville has twice been faced with an 0-2 deficit on the road. In both of those circumstances they were playing Detroit, and each time the Preds came home to Music City they responded by tying the series, but eventually lost nonetheless.
Those were obviously different teams at different times in the franchise’s development. That was then; this is now. Although this series is far from over, the Preds cannot expect the Coyotes to simply roll over; they’re not going to all of a sudden remember that they’re not supposed to win.
The torch has indeed been passed, folks. However the ground the Predators now occupy as legitimate Cup contenders is far from firm. They are no longer considered by anyone the plucky upstarts they were just after the lockout or even last year when they broke into the second round for the first time in their history. They’re now on the outskirts of the hockey establishment. No longer will they be given the benefit of the doubt; of a “courageous effort that just fell short.” If they lose this series they will ripped mercilessly by the national media — by some, justifiably, and by others, out of a remaining contempt still held for the very existence of hockey in Music City.
Yeah, a lot of things have changed, but some things remain exactly the same. And the most important thing for Preds fans to remember is, this team has never done anything the easy way — like it or not.
The Nashville Predators eat adversity for breakfast and crap it out at Noon. They’re survivors. They’re warriors; and if Phoenix is able to continue their run over them, it will only make them stronger down the line, and their subsequent future successes, sweeter.
Like it or not.
There is no way that Trotz has not issued the proper message to those who need to hear it. Nashville will answer on Wednesday night, regardless of the series’ eventual outcome. And if the Coyotes are ultimately successful, we can only tip our caps to Dave Tippett and Don Maloney for going to school on the Preds, just as the Preds went to school on Detroit, in building their team The Predators’ Way.
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