By Jim Diamond
A day after completing his first season behind the Nashville Predators’ bench, Peter Laviolette spoke with the media outside the Nashville locker room at Bridgestone Arena looking ahead to the upcoming playoffs, something the Predators have not been a part of since 2012. After missing the NHL’s postseason in both 2013 and 2014, Predators general manager David Poile parted company with Barry Trotz and hired Laviolette with hopes of the Stanley Cup-winning coach leading his team back to the playoffs.
In earning 104 points in the regular season, Laviolette’s team placed second in the Central Division, earning home ice advantage in their first round playoff series with the Chicago Blackhawks.
“The season that comes on Wednesday brings a life of its own,” Laviolette said. “Guys work hard all season long to get here. I think that there’s a lot of excitement when players end the regular season and they know their opponent, they know when their starting date is and get going.”
Despite the triple-digit standings points and the luxury of starting the playoffs with two home games, Laviolette’s Predators limped home the last month and a half of the season, winning just six of their final 21 games, a stretch that featured two separate six-game losing streaks including one that ended the season.
“The objective is to get into the playoffs,” Laviolette said. “We find ourselves with a season that’s good enough to get us home ice. Our guys are really excited to get going. We’ve got a great challenge ahead of us. Our guys are up for it. There will be plenty of excitement come Wednesday.”
Many of the players who will suit up for the Predators Wednesday night haven’t appeared in the NHL’s playoffs for a couple of years, and several will be making their playoff debuts. Laviolette isn’t focusing on the lack of recent, or any, playoff experience of his team.
“We are what we are,” he said. “You can’t manufacture playoff games. You can’t take them out of your back pocket and say, ‘Here’s a few for you and a few for you,’ you’ve got to go out and earn your stripes. We’ve got some young players in the room, but those young players are the ones that carried our team to have a successful season. I think that there’s a real good sense of team in our room. There’s a belief in there that if our guys go out and play hard and do the right things that we can be successful. I think we really need to rely more on that if some of our young players are short on playoff experience. I think they can use the regular season to know what it is that we have to do and how we have to play in order to be successful.”
As far as what players will be available Wednesday, Laviolette indicated that after missing Saturday’s regular season finale, both Shea Weber and Roman Josi would likely return to practice Monday morning. Both players practiced on Friday. Laviolette said that Mike Fisher and Cody Franson, neither of whom practiced Friday nor played Saturday, are listed as day-to-day while Eric Nystrom “probably remains a little further out.”