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Nashville Predators

Battle-Tested Predators Shouldn’t Be Overlooked By Playoff Field



Photo of Ryan McDonagh, left, by John Russell/Nashville Predators

In a sense, the Nashville Predators turned on playoff mode two months ago.

That ramp-up was necessitated by a poor 5-10 start and another losing skid as the calendar flipped from December to January. It took a franchise-best 18-game point streak to undo the early damage.

“The intensity has been there for a long stretch,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “We’ve had to put together a good streak here to get ourselves in the playoffs. We knew how important those games were, and obviously we had some success, got rolling and the crowd was really feeding us with energy.”

This year’s team may just be battle-tested enough to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs interesting.

Even though the Predators missed the postseason in 2023 and haven’t advanced past the first round since 2018, they aren’t short on big-game experience.

Ten Predators players have appeared in at least 40 career playoff games, with McDonagh (twice), Luke Schenn (twice) and Ryan O’Reilly (once) each having won the Stanley Cup with other organizations. Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi, Juuse Saros and Colton Sissons are the four holdovers from Nashville’s magical run to the Cup Final in 2017.

Only five current Predators – goaltender Kevin Lankinen, defenseman Spencer Stastney and forwards Tommy Novak, Luke Evangelista and Cole Smith – have yet to play in the postseason.

“I think we’re very fortunate with our veteran group,” Predators coach Andrew Brunette said. “They’ve done a really good job of helping the young players grow and understand how hard it’s going to be. I think we’ve been playing sort of playoff hockey here since pretty much early February. So, I think we’re building and growing. I like our game and the resiliency in our game, and that’s going to be the most important thing for me.”

Count Saros as a believer too.

The 2021-22 Vezina Trophy finalist shook off some midseason struggles and rumors about his future with the franchise to deliver timely stops when Nashville (46-29-5) needed them. He’s 7-2-2 with a .905 save percentage and a 2.73 goals-against average since the March 8 NHL trade deadline.

“We’ve kind of found our game these last few months,” Saros said. “All the (defensive) pairs and offensive lines are kind of finding chemistry too. We’ve been a close group throughout the whole year. We’re really committed to everything we’ve been doing. I think all those things (are why) I have good trust in our group.”

McDonagh and Schenn won back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2020 and 2021. They’ve seen what successful postseason runs look like, which is a big reason why both were acquired by the Predators.

“You need depth for sure; you need goaltending,” Schenn said. “… There’s a lot of parity and a lot of really, really good teams throughout the league. It comes down to needing some bounces and luck in the playoffs, but also you need to find a way to grind out games and do whatever it takes.”

The Predators seem to keep finding a way. Nashville is 18-6-5 this season in one-goal games, 11-5-3 when tied after two periods and 9-5 in overtime.

McDonagh views the team’s confidence as ingrained now. That could make the Predators a dangerous opponent for whoever they draw in the first round of the playoffs, which begin April 20.

“We have a belief that no matter where we are within a game, we can change the outcome,” he said. “Everybody knows the way we want to play and what’s expected of them. It’s easier to go out there and try to make the way we’ve been playing almost a habit.”

Follow Russell Vannozzi on X/Twitter @RussellV_MSP.

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