By Josh Cooper in Nashville
As the Detroit Red Wings skated up the handshake line with the Nashville Predators and walked into the hallway of their dressing room, they looked at an off-season and a future full of questions and speculation.
Will Nicklas Lidstrom retire? How will general manager Ken Holland re-tool this team? Is it time for this core group that has won a championship and gone to two Stanley Cup Finals to be disassembled?
As for Lidstrom, the answer was simple: "I'll sit down with [Holland] in the next few weeks and go from there. The factors haven't changed," he was quoted by reporters following Detroit's 2-1 Game 5 elimination loss.
Lidstrom didn't play one short-handed second the entire series - not as much a testament to his 41 years of age, but likely more an ankle injury that hobbled him down the stretch and in the post-season.
"It's a lot of disappointment right now, especially only getting a goal each of the last couple games," Lidstrom said. "We had some gifts, I thought, defensively. We had some defensive breakdowns that they scored on. It's tough against a very good team like Nashville."
As for the rest of the Red Wings, the script between them and the Predators was flipped for at least this series. Nashville had more top-end talent. The Predators were deeper up front, and this cost the Red Wings. This was something Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock admitted when the series ended.
"I thought their depth up front was better than our depth up front especially their third and fourth lines," Babcock said. "They had us in trouble big time there on the matchup."
Nashville's series win was a statement for the Predators. They showed they can win when the team isn't playing its best - like Games 3 and 4 in Detroit. And they showed they can close out a series. In Game 5, the Predators were in attack mode deep into the third period, still trying to score and pinching their defencemen, rather than sitting back protect the lead.
"Going into the playoffs we had the mindset of if we play the way we're capable of and [goaltender Pekka Rinne] plays the way he's capable, we have a chance to beat them," defenceman Ryan Suter said. "We came out and stuck to our game plan and we were able to get the win."
Now, Nashville could potentially have a lot of rest before their next round. This isn't exactly a bad situation for the Predators. No goaltender has won a Stanley Cup with over 70 games played in a season since 2003 with Martin Brodeur and New Jersey.
Pekka Rinne had 73 appearances this year. What may have helped Brodeur in 2003 was New Jersey's ability to close out its first and second round series in five games.
"This time of the year you are always ready to play whenever needed and you seem to gain more energy than during the regular season," Rinne said.
"For sure looking forward to having a couple of days off and then working hard and preparing for the second round."
Also, the road for the Predators to later rounds could be paved nicely. Nashville has a non-losing record against every remaining Western Conference team except the Los Angeles Kings - a team Nashville likely won't meet until the Western Conference final at the earliest.
Josh Cooper covers the Predators for The Tennessean. Follow him on Twitter @joshuacooper
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