In fact, the Predators looked like mere mortals in a 5-2 loss at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena.
For much of the game, it seemed the Maple Leafs were beating the Predators at their own game: speed, speed and more speed. That’s how they were able to score in bunches, netting two quick goals towards the end of the second period and getting a quick tally just nine seconds into the third period.
“I think we deserved every second of that,” said defenseman Ryan Ellis. “A good team came in here and played a lot better than us and I think if you look at this stretch we’ve had over the last 14, 15, 16 games or points or whatever it is, we’ve been squeaking out wins, we’ve been finding ways to win. But, that’s not playoff hockey. I think we’ve gotten away with that for some time and it finally caught up with us. We were playing a really good team and give them credit. They were so much better than us tonight.”
In the second period, after Viktor Arvidsson tied the game for Nashville on the power play, Toronto responded in a big way. Auston Matthews, who was playing in his first game back from injury, scored a nifty goal to give the Maple Leafs the lead again. Just over a minute and a half later, William Nylander somehow put the puck past Pekka Rinne on a strange-looking play to keep the Leafs up for good.
The Predators were outshot the whole way, a rare occurrence for this team. They finished the game down by just three in shots, but finished the second period down by a lopsided 10 shots. In a sense, the Leafs looked like a team the Predators wanted to be throughout the game.
“They’re obviously well-coached and they came in here with a game plan and executed,” Ellis said. “We’re really well-coached and came in with a game plan and didn’t execute. At the end of the day, that lies with the players in this room and obviously I think they played a good game but we didn’t. That’s it.”
The loss snaps a 15-game point streak for the Predators and handed them their first regulation loss since February 17. In that stretch. they hadn’t played their best hockey, but still managed to find ways to get points. As it turned out, all that glitters was not gold for Nashville.
“When you get the points, it sometimes gives you this false sense of ‘were playing well,’ head coach Peter Laviolette said. “The consistency hasn’t been as good as I think it was maybe a little bit earlier. Tonight I think was a reflection of that. We were flat tonight.”
The Predators also didn’t help themselves on this night, committing 15 turnovers and missing on 17 shots. The difference in speed on the ice in this game was palpable.
“One team was fast,” Laviolette said. “The other team wasn’t fast. To me, that’s where you get the lopsided, the ice seems to tilt one way. We’ve done that too, we’re off the mark with regards to that tonight. We’ll look to fix it and be better. They played a fast game and we needed to play a quicker game, a faster game, so to answer your question, we need more speed. More speed, more team speed, more game speed, more identity speed, and we’re just off.”
With just nine games left in the regular season and two key divisional showdowns coming up this weekend against the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets, the Predators won’t have much time to dwell on this loss.
“I think we’ve been getting points and we’ve been winning games and been on a really good run, but tonight wasn’t it and I think we just shake this off and learn from our mistakes and realize that the playoffs are around the corner and we have to be at our best,” Ellis said.
The Predators hit the road to take on Minnesota this Saturday at 7:00 PM CT.