The Nashville Predators pulled goalie Pekka Rinne midway through the first period of the team’s 5-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals.
Rinne — a Vezina Trophy finalist for the NHL’s best goaltender — allowed two soft goals, the first when Jets defenseman Tyler Myers’ shot went off Rinne’s blade and in for a goal at 8:41 of the first period.
Jets center Paul Stastny made it 2-0, finding the back of the net at 10:47.
Predators coach Peter Laviolette pulled Rinne, putting backup Juuse Saros in the net. It was the third time in the series — all in Nashville — that Saros came on in relief for Rinne.
“The biggest moment of the season, it’s a terrible feeling,” Rinne said. “You let your teammates down, and that’s what happened tonight. That’s tough to swallow.”
Saros did not fare better than Rinne, giving up three goals on the night.
Laviolette called the goals given up by Rinne “fluky.”
“There’s not a lot of things that you can do if a game’s not going your way if you can’t use your timeout,” Laviolette said. “It was way too early to use a timeout at that point. Again, I just tried to send the game in a different direction, put a pause in the game and send it in a different direction.”
Rinne’s 10:07 in the net was the least amount of time played by a starting goalie in a Game 7 in NHL postseason history, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Stastny and Mark Scheifele each finished the game with two goals for the Jets. Scheifele’s postseason tally now stands at 11, the most in the NHL. He had seven of those goals in Nashville.
Connor Hellebuyck — who is also a Vezina finalist — made 36 saves for Winnipeg. He said seeing Rinne get pulled was “heartbreaking.”
Defenseman P.K. Subban scored the lone goal for the Predators on the board with a first-period power-play goal.
The Predators, winners of the Presidents’ Trophy for best team in the regular season, lost to Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Final last June. Nashville is now the the ninth Presidents’ Trophy winner in 10 years not to win it all.
The Jets will take on the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference finals for a shot at the Stanley Cup, with Game 1 set for Saturday in Winnipeg.
Predators center Ryan Johansen skated past Winnipeg’s Toby Enstrom, got positioned in front of the net, and shot it into the left side for a goal.
Nifty. Clutch. And also a career highlight.
Johansen’s goal — which gave the Predators a 4-3 lead with 14:15 left in Game 2 at Bridgestone Arena on Sunday after the Jets had tied it just 34 seconds earlier — was his second of the game, marking his first career multi-goal playoff game.
Johansen was playing in his 42nd career playoff game.
His first goal came just 27 seconds into the game — this after the Predators failed to score until the third period of Game 1.
Johansen now has four goals this postseason and 13 for his career.
Sissons posted two assists in a 5-0 victory over the Avalanche on Sunday. The Predators won the series 4-2.
The 24-year-old continues to elevate his game when it matters most. In 190 regular season games, Sissons has averaged 0.25 points per game, but after his two assists Sunday, his playoff average jumped to 0.5 points per contest. Since the 2017 postseason, Sissons has nine goals and 19 points in 28 postseason games. It doesn’t get much better than that in the playoffs for a bottom-six forward.
Ekholm will join Team Sweden at the IIHF World Championship in Denmark.
Following Nashville’s series-ending loss to the Jets on Thursday, Ekholm — who racked up eight points in 13 games of the 2018 playoffs — will be a late addition to Sweden’s roster in the international tournament. He didn’t make it in time for Saturday’s thrilling (4-3 overtime) win over Slovakia, but there’s another match against the Swiss team scheduled for Sunday. Ekholm’s posted 100-plus blocked shots in four straight NHL seasons, plus he fashioned 10 goals and 24 assists over 81 regular-season games in 2017-18 to solidify his status as one of the game’s better two-way defensemen.
Smith recorded 51 points in 79 games in 2017-18, including a career-high 14 points on the power play.
After three consecutive seasons of declining offensive totals, Smith took a major step forward this year, falling just one point shy of the career-best 52 points he posted back in 2013-14. A huge part of Smith’s success this season was the chemistry he enjoyed with Kyle Turris and Kevin Fiala on the team’s second line, so there’s a good chance coach Peter Laviolette will look to stick with that same line combination next season. Don’t overlook the 28-year-old Smith at the draft table come October.
Nashville pulled off another comeback victory to remain the NHL’s hottest team.
Filip Forsberg scored at 1:07 of overtime and the Predators matched the franchise record with their eighth straight victory, beating the Colorado Avalanche 4-3 on Sunday. They completed a 4-0 trip, winning the last two in overtime.
“We’ve proven to ourselves that we can come back,” Forsberg said. “Getting four out of four wins on the road is ridiculous right now. But at the same time we can’t get too high. We have to keep grinding and winning the games.”
Nashville has won nine straight against Colorado, including three this season.
But Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said he still liked a lot of what he saw from his players in their latest effort against the Predators.
“I liked the way we played,” Bednar said. “I thought we got a little better as the game went on. It was a pretty good all-around effort from our group. Pretty tight contest. They catch a break at the end and tie it up and end up getting the extra point.”
Nashville’s Ryan Ellis tied it with 1:06 left in regulation with goalie Pekka Rinne off for an extra attacker.
“It’s 6 on 5 where we talk about getting pucks to the net,” Ellis said. “I had one shot that got stopped by the goalie and the next shot we had traffic in front of him and it got in.”
The Predators carried the momentum into overtime, when Forsberg charged down the ice and put in the winner with a shot from the side that got past goalie Semyon Varlamov.
“The confidence level of our team is reaIly hard. It shows our character, knowing there is no giving up,” Rinne said.
Nathan MacKinnon helped set up Colorado’s first lead of the game with a cross-ice pass to Mikko Rantanen, whose one-timer from the right circle to beat Rinne with 5:38 left in the third period.
Colorado tied it at 2 at 4:38 of the third when Matt Nieto, at the end of a rush, wristed a shot that Rinne managed to deflect. But the puck stayed around the goal and, as Predators winger Kevin Fiala tried to corral the rebound, his stick nudged the puck into the net.
Kyle Turris scored on a power play at 8:08 of the second to put the Predators in front. Turris gathered in a pass from Ellis and wristed a shot from the left circle. The puck went off the glove of goalie Semyon Varlamov before going into the net.
Nikita Zadarov had just left the penalty box and skated onto the ice after the Avalanche had killed off his high-sticking infraction. Carl Soderberg picked up a loose puck near the blue line, spotted Zadarov alone along the boards and sent a lead pass to him to ignite a breakaway. Zadarov pulled up at the top of the left circle and unleashed a slap shot that beat Rinne at 12:57 of the first to even the score.
Nashville broke on top 3:09 into the game when Austin Watson let fly a shot from the slot that glanced off defenseman Anton Lindholm’s jersey before going into the net.
NOTES: Avalanche C Colin Wilson missed the game after leaving Friday night against Minnesota with a head injury. … Five of the Predators’ nine wins in a row against the Avalanche have come in Colorado. … Forsberg has 11 goals in 19 games against Colorado. … The Avalanche saw their three-game winning streak come to a halt. … Nashville also won eight in a row from Oct. 5-25, 2005.
It has been 16 months since No. 76 was traded to the Nashville Predators — and yet, it’s clear he still feels a little hurt he is no longer a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
It’s equally clear Montreal has not forgotten Subban. Fans here continue to have heated debates about the trade that saw the 2013 Norris Trophy winner as the National Hockey League’s top defenceman exchanged for rugged all-star Shea Weber.
Subban remains a popular figure even with Montrealers who don’t follow hockey, no doubt in part because of his pledge to raise $10 million for the Montreal Children’s Hospital, but also because of his larger-than-life personality.
When Subban laces up to face the Habs on Wednesday in Nashville, it will be only the second time he’s played against his former team since the trade on June 29, 2016. His return to the Bell Centre last March was an emotional affair, with Subban shedding tears during a pre-game video tribute and the sell-out crowd welcoming him with a standing ovation.
Often when a player — even a star player — leaves town, fans lose interest. But not, it seems, in Subban’s case. The Mile End bar Chez Serge re-branded itself Chez Subban during the Predators lengthy playoff run last spring, with packed crowds cheering on the team from Tennessee on game nights.
“We don’t get so many of those — people who transcend the game and become assets to the city because of their personality, and I think P.K. was one,” says Mitch Garber, the prominent Montreal businessman.
“And I think P.K. still is one and he doesn’t even play here. He’s from Toronto and he plays in Nashville and he’s still an asset to the city of Montreal. What does that tell you?”
One reason why hockey fans in Montreal are still talking about the Subban-Weber trade is that it’s still far from obvious why Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin made the deal.
It’s one thing to trade a star defenceman for a top forward if management feels the team needs help on offence. More difficult to understand is why a team would swap one all-star defenceman for another.
So was it really a hockey trade — or was there something more behind it?
On the phone from Nashville, Subban says he has no idea why he is no longer playing for the team he grew up loving as a kid in Toronto, adding it’s up to Habs management to explain themselves.
“It’s just hilarious when people ask me the question, ‘Why do you think you were traded?’,” Subban says after a recent practice at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
“You know what? Let’s get a panel. We can get (Montreal Canadiens president and co-owner) Geoff Molson, we can get Marc Bergevin, we can get (former Habs coach) Michel Therrien. We can get the whole front office and we can just throw those questions at them.
“The reality is that I didn’t ask to be traded. I don’t know. I never got an explanation for it.
“When you think about it, I think it was two years before, we had a great team, put on a great run (in the 2014 playoffs) and I thought a lot of those pieces were still there for us to do it again. But for whatever reason, that was not just part of the plan any more.
“I can’t explain it. I can only make the best of the situation I’m put in.”
Both Molson and Bergevin declined requests to speak to the Montreal Gazette for this article.
At the time of the trade, media commentators suggested Subban was let go because of off-ice issues — that he wasn’t liked by management and some of his teammates, and that he put himself first and the team second.
At a news conference that day, Bergevin insisted Subban’s big personality had nothing to do with the trade, saying, “Yes, P.K.’s different, we’re not going to hide that, but there was never an issue, never a problem.”
For his part, Subban has always been quick to brush aside the notion that he’s overly focused on his own brand at the expense of his play on the ice.
“At the end of the day, people can look at my social-media following and the marketing deals and the charity stuff, and say — ‘Hey there’s a lot going on’,” Subban says. “Obviously I’ve found ways to manage all that stuff and still be a player. I think my career and everything I’ve accomplished so far, both team-wise and individually, says that.
“You ask any one of my teammates here in Nashville if I’m a team-first guy. You don’t get to the Stanley Cup final with guys who think they’re bigger than the team. To be honest, I call those people (who say that) jealous. They don’t know me very well.”
In September 2015, Subban pledged to raise $10 million over seven years for the Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation, and since making the move to Nashville in the summer of 2016, he has returned to Montreal on a few occasions to take part in fundraising events for the cause.
The trade has made it more complicated for Subban to raise money for the foundation, but he assured them he wasn’t about to waver in his support.
“One of his first phone calls (after the trade) was to our president to say, ‘I’m still in’,” says Valerie Frost, director of donor relations for the foundation. “So his commitment never waned but we have to recognize that it’s challenging.”
And his contributions go beyond the money he raises, Frost notes.
“The unquantifiable in all this is when P.K. visits the kids,” she says. “He used to visit as often as was possible with his busy schedule. That’s something you can’t put a price tag on.
“When you see him walk into a room with a sick patient, the impact he has on those guys … it really is magic. These kids, they light up. Even if they’re not hockey fans. He has such a wonderful rapport with them. He makes them feel comfortable. He doesn’t treat them like sick kids. He treats them like one of his friends. And he’s developed these relationships with these kids and they just so look forward to these visits.”
P.K.’s father, Karl, remembers like it was yesterday the day he heard his son was traded. He was just about to go for a walk near his home in Toronto when daughter Natasha called with the news.
“P.K. is a prankster so I didn’t know if I should take it seriously,” Karl Subban says. “I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. So you know what I did? You know what we do today — I Googled it. And it said, yes, P.K. Subban has been traded to the Nashville Predators for their captain, Shea Weber.
“I cannot lie — it was disbelief. I was stressed. Because I love this city and I love the Canadiens. I’ve been a fan for 47 years. But I knew that in time I would love Nashville and P.K. would love Nashville. He would love his new team because that’s the way we must be. … So you get over the mourning. But it wasn’t the next morning.”
As for what caused Molson and Bergevin to pull the trigger on the deal, Subban Sr. says: “It’s not even so much why to me. Being a Habs fan … they have traded some of my heroes. When I saw Larry Robinson in another jersey, I was saddened by it. When I saw Guy Lafleur in a New York Ranger jersey, I was saddened by it. When I saw Rod Langway playing for Washington and winning a Norris Trophy, I was saddened. The same thing with Chris Chelios. So you know what? I’ve had a lot of practice dealing with loss.
“Plus I also knew that he was going to a team that wanted him and he was also going to a team that was very competitive, as we saw. The emotions kick in and then common sense takes over and common sense told me, ‘he’s going to a great place and a very competitive team.’
“I didn’t expect them to make it to the Stanley Cup final and challenge the Pittsburgh Penguins and Sidney Crosby. He left a great situation in Montreal to go to another great situation.”
Among those who were surprised by the trade was Subban’s close friend Garber, who heads Caesars Interactive Entertainment and is chairman of the Cirque du Soleil.
“My reaction to the trade was personal,” Garber says. “I am first and foremost a supporter and fan of the city of Montreal. And so leaving the hockey aside, having P.K. Subban in Montreal is much better for Montreal than not having P.K. Subban here. P.K. was an asset to the city of Montreal. So I viewed it with sadness, much less on the hockey side than on the civic-pride side.”
Another friend, restaurant owner Antonio Park, suggests we may never figure out why Subban was shipped out of Montreal. Park notes he was traded at the end of the Canadiens’ disastrous 2015-16 season, and the poor results almost certainly intensified the rumours about discord in the dressing room.
“Nobody knows why” he was traded,” Park says. “It’s a hidden secret and that secret will never be revealed. … One of the things I always say to P.K. is, ‘Everything happens for a reason and this thing that happened to you happened for a good reason. So stay positive. Never turn back. Never regret.’”
Subban is indeed an upbeat guy. It’s clear he is still smarting about the trade, but at the same time he’s only too happy to point out his new team made it to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final last spring — a place the Canadiens haven’t been in 24 years.
“At the end of the day I chose to look at everything in a positive way,” Subban says. “When I got to Nashville, I said, ‘I think we have a legitimate chance to win a Stanley Cup’ and I got as close as I’ve ever gotten to winning one. One bounce here or one bounce there and maybe I have a ring on my finger and there’s a different kind of banner in the rafters here at (the) Bridgestone (Arena).”