After being eliminated from postseason contention on Tuesday night in Dallas, it would have been easy for the Nashville Predators to throw in the towel for the rest of the season. After all, on the surface it seemed like they have nothing to play for as a team.
However, quitting just doesn’t seem to be a term in this team’s vocabulary.
The Predators got a 2-0 shutout victory on Thursday night over a Phoenix Coyotes team that is fighting for the final wildcard playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Coyotes are the ones still alive for a postseason berth, but it was the Predators who played the better game and got the win.
“It just shows that there’s a lot of pride on this team,” said Predators defenseman Roman Josi. “Obviously, it’s disappointing for everybody that we won’t go to the playoffs, but we fought hard today. We just told ourselves ‘Let’s finish it off right and play the right way’ and I think that’s what we did tonight.”
“There’s only one way to play, and it’s to play the right way. This group plays the right way. It doesn’t matter if we were playing street hockey, these guys would be competitive,” said Predators head coach Barry Trotz.
Nashville has been playing some good hockey as of late, posting a 7-1-2 record in their last 10 games. It’s quite the opposite approach of last season’s team that finished the season losing 10 of their last 11 games of the season with a 1-9-1 record during that span. This season’s Predators team is finishing out the regular season on a strong note.
“It’s definitely encouraging. We’ve got a really young team, and I think lately we’ve been playing some of the best hockey of the year. Too bad it’s a little too late, but it definitely gives us some confidence going into next season,” Josi said.
This season has been tougher on Pekka Rinne perhaps more so than any other player on Nashville’s roster. He was sidelined with a hip infection that caused him to sit out the majority of the season. However, he seems to be regaining his old form. Rinne posted his second shutout of the season on Thursday night against Phoenix, stopping all 29 shots he faced.
“He’s such a great guy and such a hard competitor,” Josi said. “For him, it was probably the worst to be out for that long. He’s been great since he’s come back, and we’re really happy for him that he got a shutout tonight.”
Nashville’s offense was sparked by a power play goal from Craig Smith in the second period. It was Smith’s 21st goal of the season, which is a drastic improvement from the four goals he scored last season. His progression this season has been one of the biggest bright spots for the Predators.
“He’s just making a lot of hard plays,” Josi said. “He skates really well, he’s got great vision and a lot of poise with the puck and obviously his shot is really good. He’s been great this year and he shoots a lot and gets a lot of chances.”
Only two games remain for the Predators before they close the books on the 2013-14 season. They’ll take on the Chicago Blackhawks for the home finale on Saturday night and will then travel to Minnesota to take on the Wild on Sunday.
“We want to win those last two games and just play the right way and finish the season off right,” Josi said.
This Predators team hasn’t quit, which is a testament to the character in that locker room. They’ve played the right way. Now, they have to figure out a way this off-season to make the moves necessary to return to the playoffs next season.