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The Nashville Predators had just won their fifth straight game, a key victory over fellow Western Conference playoff hopeful Anaheim, but Barry Trotz was in no mood to celebrate.
"I was very angry last night," the longtime Predators coach told ESPN.com on Friday morning.
It had something to do with being up 5-1 against the Ducks with half a period to play and needing to hang on for dear life for a one-goal win.
"I got to the dressing room and I scolded them," Trotz said. "I said, 'When are we going to learn?' I went right back to Chicago last year."
|Pekka Rinne has a 29-20-8 record through 57 games this season.|
And that's exactly the point right now for this Predators outfit, the NHL's often-forgotten franchise which yet again is squeezing out every ounce of its roster en route to a likely playoff berth, its sixth in seven seasons. No small achievement.
Yet just making the playoffs isn't the point anymore for this organization. The Predators want to make the second round for the first time in their history.
So when you almost blow a 5-1 lead in late March, that infuriates the coach. It harkens back to 11 months ago, when the Predators had the Blackhawks holding on for dear life at the United Center, seconds away from taking a 3-2 series lead back to Nashville. But Patrick Kane scored with 13.6 seconds left, shorthanded no less, and the rest was history. The Hawks would go on to Stanley Cup glory and the Preds spent the summer wondering "what if."
On that (in)famous sequence, Preds winger Martin Erat sent a blind pass into the slot in the Chicago zone instead of doing the smart thing -- working the puck down low along the boards and killing the clock. Seconds later, Kane scored the tying goal at the other end of the ice after Chicago capitalized on Erat's turnover.
On Thursday night, there were Nashville players, trying to feed Sergei Kostitsyn for a hat-trick goal into an empty net only to fail.
"We tried it twice to get it to him," Trotz said. "You try once, you don't try twice."
It didn't cost them two points, but Trotz wanted his team to understand the big picture -- learn how to close out games and aspire to be more than just a team that makes the playoffs.
"Everything is about learning," Trotz said. "Let's not get too full of ourselves, because we're not that good."
The journey continues Saturday night with another big home contest against Dallas. The Stars are one point behind No. 8 Anaheim in the West and four points behind No. 6 Nashville.
"Every game is so crucial," Trotz said. "You lose a game and it's like you fall five places. We don't have any easy games, no one does. But our guys have been pretty good. I scolded them last night, but they've been real good overall."
The current five-game winning streak was well-earned with victories against Boston, Detroit, Buffalo and Anaheim, as well as Edmonton. The Preds are banged up; some players are playing through the pain, and Trotz is once again showing why he should be nominated for the Jack Adams Award this season.
But Trotz pointed to Vezina Trophy candidate Pekka Rinne, as well as stud blueliners Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, for the source of Nashville's success.
"I've got one of the best goalies in the world and maybe one of the best defense pairings on the planet," Trotz said. "That's where it starts."
But where will it end this season?