NASHVILLE – The Nashville Predators are living very much in the present as they prepare for their fifth playoff series in six seasons.
Considering their woeful road record in the post-season, smart move.
The Predators’ biggest challenge to winning the first playoff series in their young history is an inability to win away from home when it matters most. They are 0-10 combined on the road through their first four playoff series, including the season stars such as Peter Forsberg and Paul Kariya were on the roster.
As forward J.P. Dumont was asked about that skid after practice Monday, teammate Jordin Tootoo summed up: “Stats are for losers.” Dumont provided a deeper explanation.
“What happened in the past is in the past. We’re playing a new team Chicago we’ve never played in the playoffs so it’s going to be a fun series. We worked really hard all year long to reach our point to make the playoffs and have a chance for the Stanley Cup,” Dumont said.
“We know it’s not going to be easy. But if we play the same way that made us successful to make the playoffs, we’re going to be in good shape.”
Nearly half of Nashville’s wins this season came away from home. The Predators ranked fifth in the NHL with 23 road wins and had a five-game road winning streak snapped April 7 with a 5-2 loss at Phoenix.
Plus, they open this Western Conference series with No. 2 seed Chicago on Friday night with some confidence from having won there 4-1 on Dec. 4 and pushing the Blackhawks hard before Chicago pulled out a 5-4 win on Dec. 27 to win the season series 4-2.
Chicago’s home advantage is strong. Only Washington and Vancouver, with 30 wins apiece, did better at home than the Blackhawks (29 victories). They also can pack more than 22,000 into their arena, which they just sold out for a second straight season.
“The place is rockin’ like it was in the ’70s,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “You’re going to need some earplugs in there because it’s going to be loud.”
The Predators know Chicago well as Central Division rivals. Being seeded seventh, Nashville’s only chance of advancing rests on winning at least once in Chicago.
“That’s just the way it is,” goaltender Pekka Rinne said. “I don’t feel like we are scared to go and play in their building. This hockey team feels pretty confident playing in other team’s buildings. Yeah for sure that’s our goal to go there and steal a win.”
Rinne will be one of 10 Predators making their NHL post-season debuts in Game 1. Trotz isn’t worried, not after losing two road games to San Jose in 2007’s opening round despite having Forsberg and Kariya on what was seen as his best roster to chase a Stanley Cup.
“This is a different team than the other teams, and I think this team has the ability to do that. We’ve proven we’re one of the best road teams in the league. It doesn’t matter. In the past, that may be something you could roll on. This team really, they’re not really affected by where we play. I think that’s a real positive for us,” Trotz said.
Not playing San Jose or Detroit might help.
The Predators lost all three road games in the franchise’s playoff debut in 2004. Not even having the No. 4 seed helped in 2006 as Nashville won its opener before losing four straight to San Jose to lose not only home-ice advantage but the series. The Sharks did it to Nashville again the next season, taking the final three games.
Nashville went to Detroit last year for Game 5 having won two straight and nearly made team history with that first road playoff win before losing 2-1 in overtime. Of those 10 road playoff games, four were one-goal losses.
Those are the kind of games these Predators have excelled at this season, going 28-5-6.
“It’s been a really good season away from home,” Dumont said. “But in the playoffs … you want to go get one game on the road to start the series. Our mindset is to go game-by-game. We’ll be ready for Game 1, and we’ll see what happens.”