June 21, 2024

“Why can’t we contend? Why can’t we win?”

These were the words spoken by Ryan O’Reilly last July during his introductory press conference upon signing a four-year contract with the Nashville Predators.

Ten months later, the answer to O’Reilly’s question is simply that there is no reason why they can’t.

Last offseason, very few believed the Predators could mount a serious challenge for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And to be fair, that assessment seemed reasonable around Thanksgiving when the team was below .500 and five points adrift of a playoff berth.

A 13-3 run from late November through mid-December briefly put Nashville in contention as a possible dark-horse playoff contender. However, the team struggled to string together consecutive wins until mid-February when they were still four points out of playoff contention.

Now, following Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets, a game that felt more like a moral victory than a defeat, the Predators have officially secured a playoff spot once again. They relished every moment of proving their doubters wrong.

“Embracing the underdog role and using it as motivation is something we take pride in,” remarked head coach Andrew Brunette. “It’s a powerful driving force. I’ve personally carried that mentality throughout my playing career and continue to do so in coaching.”

Michael McCarron added, “With a new coach and GM this year, nobody expected us to make the playoffs in their first year leading the team. We faced initial struggles as expected with new systems, but we rallied as a group and grew closer. We’re a resilient team that fights until the last whistle, making us a formidable opponent once we’re in the playoff mix.”

At the start of free agency, GM Barry Trotz faced criticism for investing $18 million in 33-year-old O’Reilly and $6.37 million in 34-year-old winger Gustav Nyquist. However, both players have emerged as top scorers for the Predators this season, proving Trotz’s foresight.

Nyquist achieved a career-high 72 points this season, becoming only the seventh player in franchise history to surpass the 70-point mark. Additionally, he reached the 20-goal milestone for the first time since 2018 and the fifth time in his 13-year career.

O’Reilly, who scored the crucial game-tying goal in Tuesday’s playoff-clinching match against the Jets, has recorded the second-highest point total of his career (66) and is just two goals shy of equaling his career high. He is also on the cusp of tying the Predators’ single-season franchise record for power-play goals.

O’Reilly’s standout season may not have materialized if he had opted for a second-line center role with a bigger-market team, and it’s undeniable that the Predators would not be playoff-bound without his and Nyquist’s contributions.

“We’re only just beginning,” O’Reilly declared. “When I signed here, I saw immense potential in this team. I’m sure Gustav felt the same. As we’ve proven, we made the right choice to be part of something special.”

Keep Counting The Predators Out, They Prefer It That Way

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