Nashville, bounced in first round Predators penalties prove costly
By Darren Lowry
In a strange twist of fate, the 2005-06 season ended for the Nashville Predators right where it began: on home ice at the Gaylord Entertainment Center against the San Jose Sharks.

Unfortunately, the end result was anything but what Predators fans had hoped for.  The Sharks feasted on nine power play goals in the five-game series, including three 5-on-3 tallies that were particularly demoralizing.

It was no surprise heading into the series that taking too many penalties had been a problem in the regular season, as Nashville had finished 3rd in that category.

However, the Predators continued their undisciplined play in the postseason, and it ultimately cost them.

In a scene that was all too familiar for Nashville throughout the Western Conference Quarterfinals, referee Bill McCreary (7) directs Predators forward Scott Walker (24) to the penalty box during Game 2. Photo by Don Olea

While some of the penalty calls were questionable at best, the team was still responsible for stopping San Jose on the penalty kill, and they couldn’t do it.

One major difference coming into the series that played out in all five games was the average size difference between the two clubs.

Nashville’s tallest player is 6’-3” forward Adam Hall, who doesn’t play on the team’s top two lines. The Predators also frequently dress at least eight players that are less than 6 feet tall.

San Jose, on the other hand, boast 12 players that are 6-2 or taller, including stars Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.

The Sharks have just two players under six feet tall.

That size difference was another big key all series long, as the smaller Nashville skaters were pushed around by the larger Sharks.

Although the Predators succeeded in holding Thornton goalless in their series, Marleau, the Sharks captain, broke through the Nashville defense in a big way in San Jose’s wins, posting 7 goals and an assist. In what is perhaps a telling stat, he was held scoreless in the Sharks’ only loss of the series.

Nashville, on the other hand, was unable to turn to their go-to guys for consistent scoring.

After a stellar Game 1 where he notched assists on all four goals, Paul Kariya only managed one other point the entire series. Steve Sullivan, who was still recovering from a groin injury, did not register a goal either. The team managed no even strength goals at home, netting all five of their Gaylord goals on the man advantage. In addition, the Predators were also unable to get the “lucky bounces” that successful teams tend to get in the playoffs.

Lost in the shuffle was the solid job backup goalie Chris Mason did for the Predators after having to replace starting goalie Tomas Vokoun.

Sharks captain Patrick Marleau (12) pushes a power play goal past Predators goalie Chris Mason during Game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals. Marleau posted 7 goals and an assist in five games. Photo by Don Olea

“I felt good,” Mason said following the decisive Game 5. “[Looking back,] Game 3, I probably would have liked a couple back. They’re just a tough team to play against. It felt good, but it wasn’t good enough.”

Mason had some big shoes to fill, as Vokoun had again proven himself as one of the top goaltenders in the world during the regular season before his illness struck.

With just five games left, Vokoun was diagnosed with pelvic thrombophlebitis, an extremely rare blood disease that had caused multiple blood clots in his abdomen. The condition, which could have been fatal if not treated in time, will prevent Vokoun from any strenuous physical activity until the summer.
Predators backup goalie Chris Mason turned in a solid job after having to replace starting goalie Tomas Vokoun who was diagnosed with pelvic thrombophlebitis. Photo by Don Olea

“Obviously, it’s a tough thing to do, but on the other hand, two weeks before then I was dealing with maybe having cancer and being in a lot tougher situation, so it’s tough,” Vokoun said. “It is what it is, and hopefully it can be fixed. As much as it was tough, this was more important.”

Vokoun had only words of support and encouragement for his teammate and about his performance.

“I think he played great, since the first game he went in. We lost because we weren’t able to score, and because we took a lot of penalties and they made a difference on the power play. I think he played really well.”

Mason’s only shaky performance was in a 4-1 loss in Game 3 when he allowed a couple soft goals. Otherwise, many who watched the games remarked that Mason had a better series than counterpart Vesa Toskala had for San Jose. Toskala repeatedly allowed big rebound after big rebound into the slot that the Predators just did not capitalize on. Toskala also got much better help in front of him than Mason, who was repeatedly hung out to dry by poor Nashville defensive play.

The Predators will have to make several key personnel decisions in the long off-season, including whether or not to try and re-sign Mason, who has made it known that his first preference would be to gain a starting role somewhere else.

Predators GM David Poile did make one promise after Game 5: "I can almost guarantee you we won't be the third-most penalized team in the league next year.

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