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Predators needed more from Rinne

By Jim Diamond

It wasn’t supposed to end like this.

A year after making an improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final, as the last team to qualify for the playoffs mind you, the Nashville Predators won the Presidents’ Trophy this season and looked like they had the first Stanley Cup in team history within their grasp.

The big problem was that the Winnipeg Jets pulled the rug out from under them, and in their own barn too. But as good as the Jets are, and make no mistake, the Jets are good as hell, the Predators just weren’t good enough in the second-round series that ended Thursday night.

Pekka Rinne let in two horrible goals in the first period prior to being yanked, for the third time in the series, in favor of fellow Finn Juuse Saros. The Kyle Turris line was awful for almost of the entirety of the playoffs. Turris, along with wingers Craig Smith and Kevin Fiala combined for five goals in 13 playoff games. And the defense, long the headline-grabbers of the team, had trouble handling the size and speed of the Winnipeg forwards and didn’t contribute a whole lot of offense either.

But in Game 7, Rinne, who will likely win the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top regular season goaltender, couldn’t deny two very stoppable first period shots; one Tyler Myers tough-angle shot that somehow squeaked in between his skate and the left post and then Paul Stastny’s backhander that he harmlessly flipped over his shoulder put Nashville down 2-0 a little more than halfway through the opening period.

Following the game, Rinne was as downtrodden as one could imagine.

“I obviously feel very much responsible for our season ending at this point,” he said. “Tough… tough to swallow, tough to understand. I can’t point on anything. I felt good, no injuries, totally healthy, and total ups and downs throughout the playoffs. Obviously, the biggest moment of the season, it’s a terrible feeling you let your teammates down and that’s what happened tonight. It’s tough to swallow.”

Predictably, his teammates were there to try and take the heat off of him.

“He didn’t let us down,” captain Roman Josi said. “He’s been our best player all year. He’s been unbelievable all year. He’s an unbelievable leader all year. He’s our rock and our best player.”

P.K. Subban went one better, “Listen to me, anyone who wants to criticize, critics who want to criticize him, don’t know what they’re talking about,” Subban said. “I don’t care if they’ve played in the NHL or not. He’s the backbone of our hockey club and he’s one of the main reasons we’re here.”

Whether you know anything about hockey or not, Rinne needed to be better. It’s not a criticism, but a fact. Your backbone can’t get pulled three times in a seven-game series and expect to win that series. His teammates needed to try and pick him up, but when you dig a two-goal hole against the tough Jets, that’s a tough ask.

It’s hard to look at Rinne’s sullen mood and think that it was all Thursday night or all this series.

Rinne is 35 and will turn 36 early next season, the final season of his current contract. He has to feel like his biological clock is ticking much like Mona Lisa Vito’s in “My Cousin Vinny.” Juuse Saros is the future of Nashville’s goaltending crease, but most expected that transition to take place after next season. Now, the picture isn’t so clear. Heading into a contract year, what kind of workload will he be looking at in the 2018-19 season?

You can’t sluff off Rinne’s Vezina-worthy regular season, but his career postseason performances, save for the first three rounds of 2017, have been pedestrian.

They needed him to be better, and he simply wasn’t good enough. Again, neither were a lot of his teammates, but they needed more from him.

It just didn’t happen.

Brian Boyle’s emotional quote on ceremonial faceoff with young cancer patient

By Jim Diamond

I threw this on Twitter, but things can often get lost in that mess. So, I thought for any future Googles of Brian Boyle, that people may want to see this quote.

In the game, a 3-2 shootout win for the Devils, Boyle scored once and then won it in the shootout with a nice wrist shot that beat Juuse Saros blocker side.

Prior to the game’s start, Boyle and Predators captain Roman Josi participated in a ceremonial faceoff as part of the Hockey Fights cancer initiative. The puck was dropped by Kendall James, a young cancer patient. Usually team captains are participants in these types of faceoffs, but Boyle, a cancer survivor himself, was tapped to square off with Josi.

After the game and after already doing radio and TV interviews, I asked Boyle first about the game, and then about the pregame festivities. Despite needing to get showered and to the team bus, he gave a thoughtful and heartfelt response when asked about the beautiful young lady who dropped the puck. It was amazing.

It’s just unfair. 42 weeks or 43 weeks of chemo for the poor girl. She’s… that’s a hero. Her family, I don’t know if she has siblings, that’s some of the hardest stuff to see. You see them with a smile on their face. That’s heartwarming, remission, hearing she’s in remission, it’s heartwarming. It’s great on the Predators to recognize her. It’s great for me to meet her. That’s something that’s near and dear to my heart. The pediatrics, it’s just unfair to the kids and especially the families that have to go through that. It’s gut-wrenching. It’s just so difficult. I applaud the families that go through it. I applaud the donations and the donors and the people, the nurses and doctors that dedicate their lives to trying to cure it and fix it. Those are some people that should be really celebrated. Hockey Fights Cancer, it’s a great initiative and hopefully we can continue to try to get as much people to donate. A guy like me who is on the receiving end of research and money, I get to take pills and play hockey. I’m one of the lucky ones. Still, it’s just not fair for these kids so hopefully we can just eradicate it completely in the near future.

In a battle of Ryans, Kesler wins fight, Johansen the game

By Jim Diamond

There’s just something about a good rivalry… hockey, chess, that one co-worker who tries to beat you to work for that one preferred parking spot, it doesn’t matter. Recent battles, specifically those in the playoffs, between the Predators and the Ducks have made their games, even regular season ones, must-see TV.

The Western Conference Final between the teams was everything you wanted both on the ice as well as off of it, punctuated by heated battles between Nashville’s Ryan Johansen and Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler. Then, Johansen led the war of words, saying Kesler always had his stick in his opponent’s groins and insinuating that even Kesler’s family and friends don’t like watching him play.

The two Ryans have the kind of animosity that resembles the hate that causes Taylor Swift to write songs about exes she feels have wronged her.

Due to offseason hip surgery, Kesler missed the first 37 games of the season, meaning Thursday was the first time he squared off against Johansen since last May’s Game 4, after which Johansen required emergency surgery due to compartment syndrome of his left thigh.

But nearly two-thirds of the way through Thursday night’s game, there were just two minor penalties called. Shortly after that second penalty, an interference given to Calle Jarnkrok, Austin Watson scored a shorthanded goal to make it 3-0 in Nashville’s favor. On the ensuing faceoff between Kesler and Johansen, the puck dropped and the gloves immediately followed. The bout ended quickly, with Kesler landing a couple of punches before the players went to the ice and were separated by the linesmen.

With sticks nearby, it appeared that Johansen may have stepped on a stick before falling.

“Was that what it was?” he asked. “I hope so because I went down pretty easy. We’ll go 1-0 Kesler.”

With just over a minute remaining in the period, the combatants were sent to their respective dressing rooms. On his way to the Anaheim room, Kesler put both hands up to his face, insinuating that Johansen turtled during the scrap.

Johansen said that Kesler had been after him to fight since the start of the game.

“He was asking me to fight for two straight periods,” Johansen said. “It was time to stand up for me and not back down from him.”

Johansen scored Nashville’s second goal of the game, and was just an assist shy of the famed Gordie Howe hat trick. He achieved the milestone on Viktor Arvidsson’s late third period goal.

“I don’t know if Gordie would be too proud of that fight,” Johansen said. “It’s important that we got the win.”

In his postgame press conference, Predators coach Peter Laviolette was proud of the effort of his top-line centerman.

“He can take care of himself,” Laviollette said. “He had a great game. What did he have, a fight, a goal and an assist? That’s old school.”

Subban’s Blueline Buddies program moves those close to law enforcement

Editor’s Note: So moved by P.K. Subban’s Blueline Buddies program, Edmonton-based friend o’ Rinkside Allison Currie shares her unique perspective on how this program has affected her. 

By Allison Currie – Special to Rinkside Report 

To say P.K. Subban has been a polarizing figure in professional sports is a bit of an understatement. It seems if you’re part of the old school thinking that hockey players should wear the basic 2-piece suit, celebrate goals with just a fist bump, and “give it 110%, one game at a time,” that Subban can be disrespectful, even selfish. The crowd who loves personality and blame “dust in their eyes” for the slight tears that well up after watching the 28-year-old visit young ones at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, find him to be a refreshing character and one more players need to be like.

My first Subban experience was at the 2009 World Junior Championships in Ottawa, as roughly 17,000 rabid Team Canada fans chanted, “P.K.! P.K.! P.K.!” His most recent venture in helping the community has me wanting to chant the same thing; although, admittedly, it’d be a little weird for me to just start chanting that in my chair reading articles.

This season, with full support of the Nashville Predators, the defenseman created the Blueline Buddies program. To bridge the gap between policing and community, the program brings together a member of the Metro Nashville Police Department and their guest, a mentor from a local organization, and an underprivileged youth. They’re given tickets to a Preds home game and get to have dinner at Bridgestone Arena and meet with P.K. prior to and after the game. It allows youth to see another side of members of the MNPD beyond the uniform and badge.

Subban recognizes that there is a disconnect between civilians and police, especially with current events in the U.S. and viral videos that seem to portray an abuse of power. There is heightened tension between the two groups that creates mistrust. As an already scrutinized figure, it is commendable that Subban has put himself in a position to be further criticized for having a “pro-police” stance. It’s not a popular position to take. It only takes a quick search online to see the vulgar replies to news about Blueline Buddies and the accusations hurled towards the player.

I want to publicly thank P.K.

As the significant other of a police officer, this program means a little more to me. I sat with tears in my eyes as I read about Blueline Buddies, nearly in awe of this player who would put himself in the line of scrutiny to do what he felt was right and to put a real effort into finding a solution.

When I entered a relationship with an officer, I thought I knew what the difficult parts were. I thought the toughest part would be knowing your loved one was risking their safety every time they left for work.

I thought the second toughest part would be the grueling schedule, having to coordinate schedules so maybe you could see each other in a week or so, maybe you’d have just enough time for a quick text conversation as you’re getting up for work and your partner is just getting to bed after an 11-hour night shift.

I was wrong.

Yes, it is tough to get to your partner’s home to see a mark across his face and his response to what happened is, “I had to arrest a guy who didn’t want to be arrested.”

Yes, you hold down the urge to puke as you watch live footage of a terrorist being tracked by local police after he ran down a member of the police force; a member who was outside a football game working a shift your other half quite often works. You have the thought of, “That could have been him.”

What I didn’t expect, however, is that I would log on to Facebook and suddenly notice friends and family sharing one-sided videos and articles, condemning police for their actions. Those pieces were most likely always shared, I just blindly scrolled past them before. Now, they feel like a personal shot at the person I love. You tell yourself, “Don’t read the comments,” but you do. You read the comments and regret it, wishing you could lash out at people when it seems like they are directly referring to your loved one as a power-hungry thug. You struggle to bite your tongue when you see both friends and strangers post news articles that only show one side of the story.

Those social media shares don’t do anything to solve the problem. Those shares do the exact opposite, spreading half-truths that create a greater divide and builds further mistrust.

Programs like P.K.’s Blueline Buddies are what will be productive. Whether you support law enforcement, believe they are every negative stereotype, or are somewhere in between, there is no denying that a real effort to bring the two sides together is what will bring progress. He is exposing both ‘sides’ to one another and building relationships. Working together and changing both sides’ ideas of one another, one home game at a time, are what leads to real change.

Thank you, PK, for putting yourself in an unpopular position. Thank you for helping to create real change. Hopefully other teams will now follow suit, after recognizing the success in Nashville and the importance of this initiative.

Samuel Girard plays it cool after scoring first NHL goal

By Jim Diamond

After an impressive performance in his NHL debut Tuesday night, Predators rookie Samuel Girard looked even better Thursday night.

At 3:27 of the second period, Girard had the moment all hockey players dream about when he scored his first ever NHL goal. When asked about it after the game, Girard answered like a grizzled veteran, well beyond his age of 19, but did give himself a little metaphorical pat on the back.

“It was my goal before the game to bring some more pucks at the net,” Girard said. “It was a great shot, so it (went) in.”

After celebrating with Girard, Austin Watson made sure the goal was in fact Girard’s, as Colton Sissons was parked right in front of Stars goaltender Ben Bishop. Once Watson knew it was Girard’s, he peeled away from the group hug to retrieve the puck from linesman Scott Driscoll so that his teammate was sure to have the souvenir he will cherish for the rest of his lifetime.

“Once we figured out that it was him that got it in there, I couldn’t tell if Siss got a piece of it or not,” Watson said. “Unbelievable. He’s been so good, just with the opportunity that he’s been given… so much poise and doing a lot of things out there that I wouldn’t have even dreamed about doing at 19-20 years old.”

Friend o’ Rinkside Mike Strasinger from Sports Nashville caught the celebratory moment.

Asked about Watson grabbing the puck for him, Girard was honored.

“All the players are great teammates,” he said.

Fox Sports Tennessee cameras caught Girard’s family’s reaction to the goal.

Girard said that he didn’t look up in the stands to see his family after the goal.

“I will see them after the game and I will talk with them,” he said. “They were probably like very happy for me.”

For sure they were Sammy. Bien sur.

Samuel Girard gets a solo skate in warmup before his NHL debut

By Jim Diamond

Traditions in hockey run deep – not touching the Stanley Cup until you win it, not stepping on the team logo if it is on the floor of the team’s dressing room, and the starting goaltender always leading his team onto the ice. Well, almost always that is.

One of the unheralded, but still awesome traditions in hockey is the solo skate. Often reserved for a player’s first game or possibly his first NHL game played in his hometown if it happens to be an NHL city, the player’s teammates usually tell him that they want him to lead them onto the ice that night for the pregame warmup. And as they proceed to the door leading to the rink, the first player steps on while his 19 teammates put the brakes on and allow him a little alone time.

Nashville’s 19-year-old rookie Samuel Girard played his first career game Tuesday night, so his teammates made sure the Bridgestone Arena faithful got a good look at the Roberval, Quebec native without the distraction of any other players skating near him.

Girard had an inkling of what his teammates were up to, but like a good rookie, he accepted the honor bestowed upon him and took a couple of laps around the Nashville zone before Pekka Rinne and the other Predators joined him.

“It was special,” Girard said. “I remember my first year in junior, I was doing the same thing on the ice, maybe one or two laps. It was fun. It’s normal – it’s my first game in the NHL and everybody does that in his first NHL game, so I was prepared for that.”

Following the game, Rinne pointed to Scott Hartnell as the ringleader of Tuesday’s skate.

“I think it was number 17 who was kind of pulling for that,” Rinne said with a smile. “I was all for it. That was awesome, keep the tradition going for the rookies.”

Girard looked solid in his debut. Maybe it was the extra ice time he received prior to the start of the game.

‘Amazing teammate’ Brad Hunt rewarded with first game as a Predator

By Jim Diamond

When a hockey coach announces the team’s starting lineup prior to a game, each name called usually elicits some positive cheers from his teammates. Tuesday night, there was a little something extra when Predators head coach Peter Laviolette called Brad Hunt’s name as one of the two starting defensemen.

“Everybody was yelling, “Huntsy, Huntsy,’” goaltender Pekka Rinne said. “It was really good.”

Few players placed in a similar situation to what Hunt has experienced the last three months would have handled it with as much dignity and class as the 28-year-old defenseman has.

Claimed off of waivers from the St. Louis Blues on January 17th, Hunt has been a healthy scratch ever since, a stretch of 35 consecutive games with DNP – did not play – next to his name in the league’s statistics. That’s a long three months of just practices and extended work following morning skates. That can get old, and can get old quickly.

“If I would think about myself, it’s not the easiest situation and he’s handled it super well,” Rinne added. “It’s unbelievable his mindset. He works so hard. We were all really happy to see him get the ice time tonight and he did a really good job with Matty Irwin. I was really happy for the guy. He’s one of those guys who is an amazing teammate. He’s always in a good mood.”

At the time of Hunt’s waiver claim, the Predators were without the services of both Roman Josi and P.K. Subban, both out due to upper-body injuries, leaving the team hurting for blueliners. Soon after Hunt joined the team, Josi and Subban healed, leaving eight healthy defensemen on the roster.

Hunt’s last game played with the Blues was January 10th against Boston. His last goal, and only goal of this season, was December 13th, scored in Nashville against the Predators. It’s safe to say that most in attendance, media included, at Bridgestone Arena Tuesday night would not know Hunt if they were standing next to him.

Not having a next game to look forward to, a player can easily become a malcontent and make things difficult for all around him. That didn’t happen in Hunt’s case.

“It was really good,” Laviolette said. “This is a kid that has worked hard every day for a few months now just waiting for a game, waiting to get his number called and he did tonight. It was great to see him because it was our first look at him inside of a game. He’s a real good skater, a good puck mover. I think just getting him out on the ice and getting eyes on him was important again as we move forward towards the postseason.”

Having already clinched a spot in the playoffs, the game did not mean a whole lot for the Predators, but they are still jockeying for position in the Western Conference standings. They have an outside chance of catching the St. Louis Blues for third place in the Central Division, meaning they would play the Minnesota Wild in the opening round of the playoffs. There is a better chance that they can catch and surpass the Calgary Flames for the first wild card spot, which would match the Predators with the first-place team in the Pacific Division, currently the Anaheim Ducks.

Hunt’s stat line for the game won’t blow anyone away – no points in 16:29 of ice time with a couple of blocked shots. But his appearance did give the coaching staff a look at what he could do against another team, and it gives them another option going into the playoffs.

Forsberg hopeful for a third-straight hat trick Saturday

By Jim Diamond

Washington Capitals head coach Barry Trotz was a big fan of referencing the hockey gods during his time in Nashville when he held the same position with the Predators. Well, if the hockey gods have any sense of humor, they might be smiling down upon Bridgestone Arena late Saturday afternoon when Trotz and his Capitals face the Predators.

In Thursday night’s 4-2 victory over the visiting Colorado Avalanche, Predators forward Filip Forsberg notched a natural hat trick, recording his 20th, 21st, and 22nd goals of the season. That hat trick followed Tuesday night’s three-goal performance in the overtime loss to Calgary.

The hat-haired Predators fans leaving Bridgestone Arena for the second consecutive game didn’t seem to mind though.

Two consecutive hat tricks are rare, but a third? That seems like a lot to ask for.

But again, those hockey gods.

For those that might not remember, it was Washington that sent Forsberg to Nashville in a last-minute 2013 trade deadline day headscratcher of a trade that sent Martin Erat and Michael Latta to the Capitals. Washington made Forsberg the 11th overall pick in the 2012 Entry Draft and then general manager George McPhee thought that he was expendable to acquire a veteran like Erat.

In the balance of the 2013 season, Erat had one regular season goal in nine games played and no points in the one playoff series he participated in as the Capitals were bounced in the first round by the New York Rangers.

The following season, Erat had one goal and 23 assists in 53 regular season games, thus ending his tenure in Washington.

In his first two full seasons in Nashville, Forsberg has posted 26 and 33 goals respectively. With 22 goals through 60 games this season, a continuance of this hot streak will have Forsberg challenging the franchise record of 33 goals he shares with Jason Arnott.

Does Forsberg think he has a third consecutive hat trick on his fiery hot stick?

“I mean I would lie if I said no, but you can’t expect that,” Forsberg said with a laugh after the game.

You can’t expect it, but for anyone in the mood for a good story line, well they can certainly hope, can’t they?

Calgary visiting Nashville on a Tuesday about as common as the sun rising in the east

By Jim Diamond

As a result of Monday’s Presidents Day holiday, Tuesday may have had a very Monday feeling to it for many who had the holiday off from work. That is until those attending and covering the Predators home game against the visiting Calgary Flames entered Bridgestone Arena Tuesday. That’s because, well, all of the Predators home games against the Flames come on Tuesdays. At least it seems that way anyway.

Tuesday night was Calgary’s 34th all-time visit to Nashville, the 14th of which came on a Tuesday. That may be fewer than half of their trips to Bridgestone, but the recent history shows the Tuesday visits are much more common as of late.

With the 6-5 overtime loss Tuesday night, it marked the ninth Tuesday home game against Calgary in the last 12 times they have played in Nashville, including five of the last six.

The longest streak of Tuesday home games against Calgary you ask? It’s four consecutive times January 5, 2010, October 19, 2010, February 1, 2011, and December 13, 2011.

The Predators are now 6-3-5 in their 14 Tuesday home games against Calgary. The last three have gone past regulation time, with Nashville dropping two of the games in overtime and one in a shootout.

No matter the day, bizarre things happen when these teams get together. Filip Forsberg recorded a hat trick Tuesday night. He becomes the second Predator to get a hat trick against Calgary in a losing effort. Eric Nystrom did it first, and he did it in style, getting four goals in a 5-4 shootout loss January 24, 2014 in Calgary.

If Bovada has odds on the Flames’ visits to Nashville next season, bet the mortgage on them happening on Tuesday.

Predators follow up gross performance with a non-gross one

By Jim Diamond

Momentum can be a funny thing in hockey. When you have it, everything seems to go right and when you don’t, you get things like Saturday’s “gross” performance against the Florida Panthers as per the parlance of Nashville head coach Peter Laviolette.

Fewer than 24 hours later, the Predators came out of the gates Sunday with a metaphorical burr under their saddles against the Dallas Stars. There were some odd fights, bad penalties and just about everything else you could not imagine happening.

“I didn’t doubt that they would be ready to play tonight,” Laviolette said after the game.

Although he didn’t come right out and say it, odds are good that he strongly suggested they do so following Saturday’s performance.

Even though they were playing fairly decently Sunday, they were still down 3-0 more than halfway through the game. But then the p = mv finally turned in the Predators favor.

Roman Josi took advantage of a disturbance in front of the Dallas net to the get the Predators on the scoreboard. That disturbance came in the form of Viktor Arvidsson getting punched in the face and losing his helmet while falling to the ground in front of Kari Lehtonen.

With a power play carrying over into the third, Nashville finally caught the break they were due from the zebras when Jamie Benn was whistled for a hooking penalty at 22 seconds of the third. Josi struck again on the 5-on-3 to make it 3-2, and Calle Jarnkrok tied the game at the 4:40 mark with an impressive wrister after using Stars defenseman Jamie Oleksiak as a screen.

Arvidsson took an offensive zone penalty just 14 seconds after Jarnkrok’s goal, but in another twist of momentum fate, the Predators turned that into the game-winning goal.

On the Dallas power play, Tyler Seguin tried to stickhandle into the Nashville zone at the blue line. Filip Forsberg dispossessed him and was off to the races on a breakaway.

“I’m just trying to get my big feet moving to be honest with you on the blue line,” Forsberg said with a laugh. “Just trying to get some speed and it was pretty much a breakaway from the blue line. I just tried to shoot it low glove and fanned on the shot and it went five-hole. The best shot in hockey, the miss.”

Now the big challenge for the Predators will be trying to carry the momentum of Sunday’s victory through their five-day break which begins Monday. With the St. Louis Blues seeing some results since Ken Hitchcock was given the pink slip, the battle for third place in the Central Division will be tight. Also tight will be the battle for the Western Conference’s two wild card spots, which look now to be a battle between Los Angeles, Calgary, and whichever of the Blues and Predators that does not get third in the Central. Vancouver, Dallas, and Winnipeg could also get in the wild card conversation.

When they return from the break, the Predators play back-to-back road games in Minnesota and Columbus, both teams are already solidly in the playoff picture. It’s in the Predators best interest to not be gross in those games as they begin the final stretch of the season.