The Nashville Predators were proud of their effort in their best-of-7 series loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup First Round that ended with a 4-3 overtime defeat in Game 6 at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday.
“There’s a lot of optimism around there,” Nashville defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “We just hung with the [third-best] team. Punch for punch, we showed that we’re a contending team and we deserve to be in the playoffs. Four overtime games that could’ve gone either way, a bounce here, bounce there. We’re done tonight, but I’m unbelievably proud of this group.”
The Predators were seventh in the eight-team Discover Central Division on March 15 then went 18-6-1 in their final 25 games to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the No. 4 seed in the division.
The final four games against the No. 1 seed Hurricanes went to overtime. The Predators trailed the series before winning Games 3 and 4, each in double overtime.
“I think we learned a lot about our team, particularly reestablishing an identity conducive to winning, work ethic, commitment, the structure you need to play with and how hard it is to win regardless of your talent,” Nashville coach John Hynes said.
“But we’re sitting here closing out our season and losing Game 6. Guys have to have improve in the offseason, whether it’s individual skills, some of their physical abilities. Those are things we have to take a step in.”
Predators captain Roman Josi, the 2020 Norris Trophy winner voted as the NHL’s best defenseman, left the game after he was hit by Hurricanes forward Jordan Martinook along the boards 5:30 into the third period. Hynes did not have an update after the game on Josi, who assisted on forward Ryan Johansen‘s 5-on-3 power-play goal in the second period.
Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho tipped defenseman Jaccob Slavin‘s shot to win the game 1:06 into overtime. Predators goalie Juuse Saros made 27 saves on 31 shots.
“Full marks to Nashville,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “That’s a great team. No weaknesses in that group. All the games were tight.”
For the second consecutive game, the Predators couldn’t hold a one-goal lead in the third period. Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton tied it at 3-3 with 6:01 remaining.
“They turned it up, for sure,” Johansen said. “But I think it was probably a little more on us and how we sat back and didn’t have enough poise to continue to make plays and have the pace we were having there in the second period, especially. That’s what we wanted to get back to in overtime, and obviously they scored early. They’re a great hockey team, they did some good things in the third to tie it up and win it in OT.”