Nashville Predators need more than 'grit' to get it done against Carolina Hurricanes

Paul Skrbina
Nashville Tennessean

Roman Josi paused while trying to sum up the Nashville Predators' identity going into the postseason.

"One word?" the Predators defenseman asked Monday before his team's 5-2 Game 1 loss against the Hurricanes in their opening-round series.

Then it came to him. 

"I don't know, 'grit,' " he continued. "The way we played down the stretch, we played with a lot of grit ... coming back from the position we were."

Colton Sissons used the same word.

Perhaps "underdog" or something of that ilk would have been more apropos. 

Then again, the season appeared all but over for the Predators as February leaned into March, when their chances of making the playoffs were more closely related to none than to slim. Still, the team found its way, improbably, to mid-May and Raleigh, North Carolina.

So grit it is.

"We need to find a way to come out of this better," Josi said back then.

The Predators did. Going from 11-16-1 on March 13 to finish 31-23-2 and winning 20 of their final 28 games.

"Grit" was enough to get the Predators into the postseason.

That and Juuse Saros.

But the Predators likely will need more than grit and great goaltending to move past the first round against one of the best teams in the league.

One of the last ones in, the Predators are trying to avoid becoming one of the first teams out. They're fighting the odds again, against the team with the third-best record in the NHL. gave the Predators a 35.3% chance of beating the Hurricanes and a 1.2% chance of winning it all. That was before they were outmatched by a better team.

Continuing their rally in Raleigh is the Predators' plan. How that works out remains to be seen.

"It's been kind of a crazy season for us, with the start we had," Josi said. "Looking back, the turnaround we had ... we've been talking about this a lot. We've been kind of playing playoff hockey, fighting for our playoff lives for about 15 games ... a lot of must-win games. We've had that playoff intensity and hopefully we can continue that into the playoffs."

Filip Forsberg followed that directive Monday when he deposited a beauty of a pass from Ryan Johansen into Carolina's net, then sprouted a smile as he appeared to shout some words of celebration — "that's for you, baby" according to amateur lip-readers —  at the home crowd with 7 minutes, 46 seconds left in the first. But the lead was soon erased thanks to a Teuvo Teravainen tip with 6:19 left in the period.

Jordan Staal scored the first of his two goals with three seconds left on a four-on-four 4:19 into the second for a 2-1 Carolina lead.

The team that won 20 of its 28 games suddenly found itself outmatched.

Yet the Predators still managed to give themselves a shot going into the third period tied 2-2.

GAME 1 HIGHLIGHTS:Nashville Predators vs. Carolina Hurricanes Video highlights from Game 1

GOOD GOALIES:Pekka Rinne, Juuse Saros and a Predators playoff run to savor

ESTES:Hurricane warnings in Raleigh, where Predators arrive as an afterthought 

"They were the better team in the third and they deserved to win tonight," said Erik Haula, a former Hurricane who scored a goal and was showered with boos.

One thing is almost certain: The Predators, one way or another, will get what they deserve — and earn — against the Hurricanes.

Some were quick to point to those who didn't play Monday — see: Eeli Tolvanen, Nick Cousins, Dante Fabbro, et al. — than those who did. 

Coach John Hynes was second-guessed for his lineup decisions, perhaps with some shreds of validity.

Some names could change Wednesday, some might not.

"We'll see," Hynes said. "We have to evaluate the game and evaluate our players and continue to move forward from there."

The odds against the Predators, though, are something they'll have to continue to fight.

After all, that's what they've earned.

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