It’s crunch time in the NHL.
With the regular season in its latter stages, teams are battling for postseason positioning as their supporters watch anxiously. And it’s not just fans who are keeping their eyes on the action. Sports bettors everywhere from Tennessee to Canada, which will see their betting options grow with the upcoming launch of theScore Bet Ontario, are filling out their bet slips with hockey action.
The Nashville Predators — one of the league’s most popular franchises — had lost four in a row before Tuesday’s win at Eastern Conference-leading Florida, and hope to build momentum before the playoffs start in May. Can the Predators do that and make this season a success?
Why The Predators Can Make A Comeback
All teams have slumps sometimes, and this is one Nashville should be able to pull out of.
The Predators (29-18-4, 62 points) boast a talented roster and a winning record — one that’s survived despite their recent struggles. Led by efficient goal-scorers Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene and starting goalie Juuse Saros, Nashville has proven it can beat other strong teams.
And the Predators are already on the fast path to winning again. They stopped their losing streak at four by downing the Florida Panthers 6-4 on Tuesday, thanks to a go-ahead goal from Mikael Granlund. He scored on a power play with 5:31 left in the game before Tanner Jeannot tallied his own to seal Nashville’s long-awaited win. They can make it two in a row on Thursday night when they play host to the Dallas Stars at Bridgestone Arena.
“We don’t want to get too high, or too low,” Jeannot said after the game, according to The Associated Press. “When the games weren’t going our way these past few games, we didn’t get too low. We played hard and got the win.”
It was an impressive and pivotal moment for a team that, despite its losing streak, came into the bout with the right mentality, which translated to successful play on the ice.
“If you came to our rink during the stretch where we lost four games, you wouldn’t be able to tell we lost four games,” Nashville coach John Hynes said, according to The Nashville Post. “There was energy, there was camaraderie, there was focus and understanding taking each game for what it was, understanding things we did well, things we didn’t do well.
“We stayed focused on making sure we’re doing the right things.”
This is still the team that’s earned almost 30 wins this season and is currently seventh in the Western Conference playoff standings. Eight teams will qualify for the playoffs. Nashville certainly has the talent and the will to come back and field a strong finish to the regular season and maybe even a deep postseason run.
Why The Predators Might Not Make A Comeback
While the Predators regaining momentum and finishing the season strong would be a sensational storyline, the odds simply may not be in their favor.
This isn’t the same Nashville group that took the NHL by storm several years ago. Gone is legendary goalie Pekka Rinne, who retired after last season, and it’s tough to know if a player of his caliber — both from a production and leadership standpoint — will ever be on the Predators roster again.
“He’s not just our best player, he’s been our best person,” Predators president and CEO Sean Henry said of Rinne, according to nhl.com. “He does things because he knows he can pick people up. He is the kindest guy I’ve ever been around. The fact that he happens to be one of the best that’s ever played the position, that’s incredible, but the reason people love him is that spirit he has.”
While Nashville still has talent and players who know how to win, as in any professional sport, navigating the postseason without a superstar can be unrewarding work. That may just be the position the Predators are in right now.
There’s also still the question of whether John Hynes is the right coach for the Predators. Though he improved Nashville’s record from his first to second seasons, he flamed out in his previous job with the New Jersey Devils, tallying a 150-159 record before being fired during the 2019-20 season.
Heading into the season’s critical stretch without the right leader can be disastrous, and whether or not Hynes is the optimal leader for Nashville is still to be decided. If he’s not, things could get worse before they get better for the Predators.
The Predators are still a winning team and may tally victories in spurts, but without the right pieces in place, some slumps are just too hard to get out of. This may be one of those times for Nashville.