The Nashville Predators officially turned their season around on Saturday night, clinching a playoff spot by beating the Carolina Hurricanes 3-1 at Bridgestone Arena.

For the seventh season in a row, the Preds are headed to the playoffs.

As reward for making the postseason, they will face those very same Carolina Hurricanes in the 1st round, a team they just beat for the first time all season.

The Preds now have the 2nd longest active streak in the NHL of making the playoffs, tied with the Washington Capitals.

Luke Kunin, Juuse Saros star in Preds win

The game itself was an exciting, up-and-down affair featuring great goaltending.

In the first period, the Preds and Hurricanes traded power play chances, but neither team could get much quality on net. Both penalty kills were doing a great job turning away entry passes and getting sticks on shots.

To add to that, both goalies were outstanding to start the game. Juuse Saros had two or three crucial saves on Hurricanes players in transition and Alex Nedeljkovic stopped multiple Preds deflections in front.

The first period ended in a scoreless tie.

But then, the Predators got on the scoreboard first. Late in the 2nd period, Mikael Granlund floated a pass to Luke Kunin on the rush, who scored to make it 1-0 with 7:33 left in the period.

The Preds took that lead into the 3rd period, and then extended it to 2-0 when Luke Kunin put home his 2nd goal of the game. Yet again, Granlund fed him a perfect pass on the breakaway and he put the puck by Hurricanes goalie Alex Nedeljkovic.

The Hurricanes got one goal back later in the 3rd, but the Preds iced it away when Erik Haula scored on the empty net to make it a 3-1 final.

Juuse Saros finished with 21 saves and earned his 21st win on the season.

Bridgestone Arena crowd fueled win

Multiple Nashville Predators players and head coach John Hynes praised the Bridgestone Arena crowd in the postgame press conference.

Though the crowd was only at 40% capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions, they were as loud and present as ever. A patented “Smashville Standing O” occurred immediately before Luke Kunin scored the first goal of the game, something the players definitely noticed.

“It was huge, I can’t tell you how many times the crowd did that and we score after,” Roman Josi said after the game. “It’s amazing how much of a boost it gives us. We were talking about it actually the other day after the Dallas game. After we won, it was so loud in there. And it’s not even 100% full. It’s just really cool to have our fans back.”

Goalscorer Luke Kunin, who is a newcomer to Nashville this year, also noticed the atmosphere and the timing of the noise.

“Yeah, I mean the crowd was unbelievable all game,” Luke Kunin said. “We’re feeding off that. That’s pretty cool to play in front of obviously. It’s not even full, so. They were great, we were getting a lot of energy.”

With the Preds now guaranteed at least two home games in the first round, and with more COVID-19 restrictions being lifted every day, it’s entirely possible Bridgestone Arena sees even more fans in the building very soon.

Dramatic Preds turnaround since March

It’s a little hard to believe that the Nashville Predators are in the playoffs, considering where they were not even two months ago.

On March 13th, the Preds had just lost 6-3 to the Tampa Bay Lighting, and were in 7th place in the Central division. They were 11 points behind the Chicago Blackhawks for the final playoff spot and things looked as dire as ever.

People were talking about a potential rebuild, injuries were piling up, faith in David Poile was at an all-time low, and many of the Preds’ biggest names were at the top of league trade bait lists.

Then the Preds, or more specifically, Juuse Saros, caught fire.

After returning from injury on March 18th, Juuse Saros started 23 of the Preds’ final 26 games, winning 21 of them. He had an astonishing .941 save percentage over that span, catapulting his name into the Vezina Trophy discussion.

Other players stepped up their game as well. Luke Kunin and Mikael Granlund led the team with eight goals, with Granlund and Roman Josi leading the team with 17 points in that span. We’ve also seen an emergence of the Preds’ 4th line, with Colton Sissons, Yakov Trenin, and Tanner Jeannot in that time. At times, they’ve been the Preds’ best forward unit.

The team dealt with plenty of adversity in the final two months, losing Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene, and Viktor Arvidsson to injury at various points, and having to rely on youth to step up in their absence.

It wasn’t always easy (“we definitely earned it the hard way,” as Roman Josi put it), but in the end, they made the playoffs.

John Hynes knows that’s never easy.

“Look, it’s hard to get into the playoffs,” Hynes said after the game. “Every team starts the season with the expectation that they want to make the playoffs. But when you go through the trials and tribulations of a season, whether it’s good losses, bad losses, good performances, bad performances, injuries, hard schedule, overcoming adversity, it’s hard to get into the playoffs.”

“I’m just really proud of the guys. We won our way into the playoffs. We didn’t count on someone else to lose. We had to win a hockey game against a really good hockey team. We had to show up here tonight with some physical, mental, emotional readiness and intensity and we did that.”

— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —