Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile isn’t questioning his team’s Cinderella-esque run over the last month and a half.
Poile may have been one of only a handful of believers in the Predators as a playoff contender a month ago, which is why the longtime GM elected not to make any significant moves at the trade deadline, instead believing full-stop in Nashville’s ability to hold off the Dallas Stars and Chicago Blackhawks for the final playoff spot in the Central Division.
“I give the guys a lot of credit. They’ve been adaptable, they take the lessons that we as a coaching staff try to teach, whether they’re tactically or mentally or just team identity things,” Predators coach John Hynes said. “They’re the guys that have to go out and perform. When you have that mentality, identity and belief system of what we need to do to win, it allows you to be able to have success.”
Now, the Predators find themselves locked in a postseason race with Dallas that looks set to come down to the wire. The two clubs play each other May 1 at Bridgestone Arena in their final meeting of the season in what could be the biggest game of the year for both.
The Predators have played their best hockey this year with their backs against the wall. Sitting 10 points out of a playoff position on March 18, they reeled off 14 wins in 20 games and amassed the second-most points in the NHL over that span to plant themselves in thick of things.
“It’s up to us to prove (Poile) right (for not making any trades) and us worthy of getting the opportunity (to make a playoff push),” defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “So far, so good. I think we’ve been getting better and better, and we don’t have many games left, so it’s coming down to crunch time here. The next few are going to mean a lot.”
“There’s been a lot of consistency to how we’ve played the last six weeks,” Hynes said. “You can see that there’s an identity to the way we want to play with and there’s a commitment to doing it and I just like the reliability and consistency in what we’re going to get night to night. That allows you to win and I think it gives the players confidence, the team confidence and allows you to be able to play the right way.”
The Predators have had to do perhaps more soul searching than any team in the NHL over the last month and a half. They have been ravaged by injuries to many of their top stars and management and ownership have faced constant pressure from fans to hit the reset button and begin a fire sale.
Instead, the team turned to the bevy of talent it had stockpiled in the American Hockey League and began a resurgence on the backs of an NHL-high 12 rookies. So far, they’ve held up fairly well while facing the immensity of playing for their season nearly every night.
“They’re very steady out there and in control and focused,” center Ryan Johansen said. “We’ve been saying about them all year, we’re impressed with how they’ve come in and the maturity they play with on the ice is very noticeable and made a huge impact on our team. It’s been fun to watch.”
The Predators have been fortunate to handle adversity in stride this season. Many of their rookies haven’t experienced much losing at the NHL level.
But if they stay the course and sneak into the playoffs, can the Predators’ stable of prospects and undrafted free agents hold up against the firestorm of challenges that come with playing postseason hockey?
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_