It was only a couple of weeks ago that the Nashville Predators season looked like it was slipping away from them.
They were sliding down the standings, everybody was trying to figure out what they needed to do to fix their mess, and asking whether or not it was time to rebuild it.
Thanks to their 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday night, Nashville has now won five games in a row and seven of its past eight to climb its way back into playoff contention. Not only are the Predators back in contention for a playoff spot, thanks to their back-to-back regulation wins over the Blackhawks this weekend they now find themselves tied in the standings for the fourth playoff spot in the Central Division.
What has changed recently?
For starters they are getting some big contributions from depth players down their lineup, specifically Eeli Tolvanen, Calle Jarnkrok, Rocco Grimaldi, and Mikael Granlund. That quartet has combined for 15 goals over the past eight games, accounting for the bulk of the Predators’ scoring during that stretch.
Jarnkrok scored one of Nashville’s goals on Sunday, while Tolvanen helped set up Roman Josi‘s game-winner to cap off a beautiful passing play in the Chicago zone. That goal came just moments after Chicago’s Alex DeBrincant had tied the game with two beautiful goals.
But the biggest change has been in the goal crease where Juuse Saros and Pekka Rinne have both been sensational. With Rinne’s 27 saves on Sunday, that duo has .962 save percentage since March 14. When you get goaltending like that you are going to win a heck of a lot of hockey games no matter what else is going on. That is a huge shift for the Predators because the two biggest issues the past two seasons have been on special teams and in goal.
If you look at Nashville’s performance over the past two seasons they have been a very good 5-on-5 team in terms of controlling shots and outscoring their opponents. But their goaltending and special teams have been so consistently bad that it has completely sunk everything else about the team. Now that the goaltending is there, so are the wins.
Their next three games are against Dallas (two) and Chicago, all of which will be significant in the playoff race for that fourth playoff spot. After those games they get two games against the Detroit Red Wings.