Every regular season has its roller coaster-like ups and downs for every team. That came in the first half for the Nashville Predators, who put together a remarkable record ever since a mid-December turnaround.
“If you would have asked me after the first 20 games, if you wanted my real honest answer, I don’t think we’d be in the position we are [in now],” head coach Barry Trotz said.
Something clicked in December. They started out 12-11-4 in their first 27 games, but they closed out the season with a 34-15-4 record. It’s hard not to point at the handful of comebacks as a turning point for the Predators, starting with the comeback in Columbus on December 8.
They hadn’t played well for over two weeks. It was clear the Predators needed a spark. And they got one from left field.
In that December 8th game in Columbus, down 3-1 with two minutes remaining, the Predators were set to lose their third game in a row and fall to .500. The lowly Blue Jackets had controlled much of the contest, but the Predators never gave up.
Patric Hornqvist scored with 1:36 remaining. Sergei Kostitsyn, with the goalie pulled, tied the game with 13 seconds to go. Colin Wilson scored just 1:45 into overtime to capture a 4-3 victory. In the blink of an eye, the Predators’ season took a 180-degree turn for the better.
“That was an exciting win for us to get us together. I don’t think we’ll forget that one,” said Mike Fisher.
The comebacks didn’t stop there. A week later the Predators erased a 3-1 deficit to beat rival Detroit. The next week the Predators pulled off the most memorable comeback of them all, topping the Blue Jackets 6-5 after trailing 5-2 in the second period.
Those games made this Predators team believe they can win in any situation and that no game is over until the final horn. Another fine example came on the last day of January, where the Predators trailed 4-1 in Minnesota in the third period, only to win 5-4 in regulation. The Predators ended the season with seven wins when trailing after two periods, second-best in the NHL
“We’d be fighting for our lives if we didn’t have some of those comebacks,” Fisher said.
Patric Hornqvist mentioned that the belief of never being out of a game has made a big difference.
“That’s the biggest difference from last year. Last year when we were down a couple goals, everyone started panicking that we had to get the goals right away,” he said. “[This year] we’ve been sticking to our game plan because we know we’re going to get chances.”
The Predators’ aforementioned record in their final 55 games started with the comeback in Columbus. They fed off that comeback and won the next five games. They tore through January, winning 11 of 13 and setting a franchise record for wins in a month. February offered a new look for the team, as GM David Poile went out and made three trade deadline acquisitions. March was all about the return of star forward Alexander Radulov.
The Predators closed the regular season with 104 points (third-most in team history) and a lot of momentum, the same momentum they gathered in mid-December and never really let go of.
“There are lots of those moments that I think we can really draw on in the playoffs, because we’re going to face adversity like that,” Fisher said. “Those are moments you keep in the memory bank for sure.”