Predators done in by lack of production from top players in first round

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The Nashville Predators were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Carolina Hurricanes, losing 4-3 in overtime in Game 6 of the best-of-7 Stanley Cup First Round on Thursday.

Nashville was 31-23-2 in the regular season, finishing as the No. 4 seed in the Discover Central Division, and lost to the No. 1 Hurricanes in six games. The final four games went to overtime, with the Predators losing Games 5 and 6.  

Here is a look at what happened during the 2021 postseason for the Predators and why things could be even better next season:

 

The skinny

Potential unrestricted free agents: Mikael Granlund, F; Erik Haula, F; Brad Richardson, F; Erik Gudbranson, D; Luca Sbisa, D; Pekka Rinne, G; Kasimir Kaskisuo, G

Potential restricted free agents: Eeli Tolvanen, F; Rem Pitlick, F; Mathieu Olivier, F; Dante Fabbro, D; Jeremy Davies, D; Ben Harpur, D; Juuse Saros, G

Potential 2021 NHL Draft picks: 7

 

What went wrong

Early power-play issues: They were 0-for-10 on the power play in the first two games, including 0-for-7 in Game 2. Carolina won Game 2 3-0 but was leading 1-0 until forward Sebastian Aho scored with 53 seconds remaining in regulation. One power-play goal in that game, and things could have been different. The Predators were 3-for-26 on the power play in the series after struggling during the regular season (17.6 percent, tied for 23rd). 

Not enough from top players: In the final three games of the series, forwards Filip Forsberg had no points and Matt Duchene had one assist. Duchene and forward Ryan Johansen were taken off the power play entering Game 3. Johansen seemed to respond better than Duchene, scoring three goals in the final four games. Forward Mikael Granlund and defenseman Ryan Ellis each scored five points, but it wasn’t enough.

Couldn’t close: They had a 2-1 lead with 7:05 remaining in the third period in Game 5 before Hurricanes forward Martin Necas tied the game and Carolina eventually won in overtime. In Game 6, the Predators led by two in the second period before Aho and defenseman Dougie Hamilton tied the game 3-3. Carolina won 1:06 into overtime. The inability to offset Carolina’s push in the past two games was costly.

 

Reasons for optimism

Saros is No. 1: The 26-year-old goalie was outstanding in the regular season, going 21-11-1 with a 2.28 goals-against average, .927 save percentage and three shutouts. Nashville general manager David Poile said Saros needed to win games and series in the playoffs to truly become a No. 1 goalie. Saros didn’t win a series, but certainly gave the Predators a chance, going 2-4-0 with a 2.78 GAA and .921 save percentage. He has earned the No. 1 job heading into next season with 38-year-old Pekka Rinne an unrestricted free agent and having likely played his last game with the Predators.

Young players gain experience: Forwards Yakov Trenin, 23, and Luke Kunin, 24, each scored two goals in the series. Forward Eeli Tolvanen, a healthy scratch in Games 1 and 6 didn’t have any points in four games, but the 22-year-old scored 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 40 regular-season games. The Predators are in good shape, especially up front, with their young players.

Strong playoff showing: When Carolina took a 2-0 lead, it looked like it was going to be a quick series. But Nashville played hard in four consecutive overtime games, defeating Carolina in Games 3 and 4 to tie the series. The Predators likely will make some changes in the offseason, but they need to build off this series after qualifying for the playoffs following an 11-16-1 start to the season.

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