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Nashville Predators

Keep Counting The Predators Out, They Prefer It That Way



Photo of Michael McCarron, left, Kiefer Sherwood, center, and Roman Josi by John Russell/Nashville Predators

“Why can’t we contend? Why can’t we win?”

Those words came straight from the mouth of Ryan O’Reilly last July during his introductory press conference after signing a four-year contract with the Nashville Predators.

Ten months later, the answer to O’Reilly’s question is there is no reason.

Very few believed the Predators could actually make a serious run at the Stanley Cup Playoffs last offseason. And to be fair, that looked like a fair assessment around Thanksgiving when the Predators were a below-.500 team and five points out of a playoff spot.

A 13-3 stretch from the end of November through mid-December had Nashville looking like a possible dark-horse playoff contender, but the team never won more than two games in a row up through mid-February, at which point it was still four points out of the playoff picture.

But now, after Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets, which felt like the most “we technically lost but it sure doesn’t feel that way” game of the season, the Predators are officially a playoff team again, and they enjoyed every second of proving their doubters wrong.

“Being an underdog, you kind of wear it and you’re proud of it,” head coach Andrew Brunette said. “When you wake up every morning, there’s usually no better motivation than proving people wrong. And maybe we wear that a little bit — I’ve worn that my whole playing career, and I continue to wear that in my coaching career.”

Added Michael McCarron: “Obviously, new coach and new GM this year and nobody picked us to make the playoffs in the first year of their leadership. We obviously struggled off the start, you know that’s going to happen with new systems and everything, but we were able to find our way as a group and come together pretty close. We’re a scary team because we play to the last whistle, so once you get into the dance anything can happen.”

Back at the start of free agency, GM Barry Trotz took his share of criticism for doling out $18 million to a 33-year-old O‘Reilly and $6.37 million to 34-year-old winger Gustav Nyquist. But lo and behold, they’re two of the Predators’ top four scorers this season, and Trotz may have known what he was doing all along.

Nyquist set a new career high in points (72), becoming just the seventh player in franchise history to score 70 or more points in a season, and he also reached the 20-goal plateau for the first time since 2018 and for just the fifth time in his 13-year career.

O’Reilly, who scored the game-tying goal in the third period of Tuesday’s playoff-clinching game against the Jets, has logged the second-most points of his career (66) and he’s just two goals away from matching his career high. He’s also just two power-play goals away from tying the Predators single-season franchise record.

O’Reilly’s career year likely doesn’t happen if he signs to play a second-line center role with a larger-market team, and the Predators — without question — are not a playoff team without him and Nyquist.

“We’re just getting started,” O’Reilly said. “For myself, there was a lot of potential on this team in signing here. I’m sure it’s the same for (Nyquist). As we see, we did the right things and we got to come be a part of something good.”

Follow Michael Gallagher on X/Twitter @MGsports_

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