What a difference a month made for the Predators.
At one point in the season, as late as a 6-3 loss to the Lightning on March 13, things looked bleak for the Predators’ playoff hopes. Nashville was 11-16-1, and all signs pointed to a trade deadline. But then things started to change. When fans woke up the morning of April 14, the Predators were 13-3-0 since the loss to Tampa Bay, and were five games above .500.
Even for Chris Mason, who has seen it all in Tennessee, this was a new one. The former NHL goalkeeper, who spent 146 games and seven seasons of his 11-season career sporting the saber-toothed tiger shield, has been in the broadcast booth since 2015-16, when he joined the Bally Sports radio team. South as a color. analyst. In 2017, he joined radio partner Willy Daunic on the television side.
The duo are now ready to call in the Stanley Predators Cup playoff action, as the wrestling team go head-to-head with Central Division champion Carolina Hurricanes. Sporting News recently caught up with Mason to discuss the Predators’ run to the postseason, their chances of lifting the Lord Stanley Cup and more.
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Editor’s Note: The conversation has been edited to be longer and clearer.
Sport News: How would you describe this team of Predators?
Chris Mason: It’s almost really a two-season story. I think there were a lot of changes in the offseason at the beginning of the year, not only in the squad, but also in the coaching staff. They brought two new coaches into the mix. I think they brought in about seven or eight new players; It’s the biggest turnover they’ve had in many, many years and it really took a while for everyone to stabilize.
They really got off to a slow start in terms of trying to be the team they said everyone wanted to be, which was a physical, hard-working, and tough team to play against due to their attention to detail on defense. There’s a point in the season where they started to get injured, the guys weren’t playing to their potential and their capabilities and it looked like it was going to be: okay, well, when the trade deadline comes, we’ll have to move this. veteran player and start trying to acquire assets and play all young players. But it was almost a magical thing that happened when all these guys got hurt and down and out and had this eight-game road trip against three of the best teams in the league … and it seems since that road trip that their identity was forged.
They became a team where you guys instead of just shrugging and saying, ‘You know, what are you? What kind of equipment is this? for this it is a team that is willing to work and play in the right way. … It was kind of a snowball from there and it’s a team that once they have that belief, they can take on anyone. There were a couple of bumps in the road, but nothing disturbed them and for them to make the playoffs, it’s really a miracle.
SN: (Predators coach) John Hynes was on our coaching list on the bench in the middle of the season. What caused the course change? Was it that the players were finally buying the systems?
CM: I think one thing that has impressed me with John Hynes is when things went wrong and in each game you have to answer the same questions over and over again and it becomes a record. But he never wavered in his message, in his demeanor and I think for the players, I think that helps the guys a lot to say that, you know, what, it’s wrong right now, it’s not going well, but our coach isn’t. ” He’s going to throw us under the bus. Believe in us, believe in the message. … I think once they started to really commit to that, because sometimes it’s hard to get offensive players to really commit to that defensive mentality because they want to score goals and they want to attack and they have a certain skill – it states that sometimes playing games that way as a striker takes you out of your comfort zone. But once they started doing that, they started winning, and then they started scoring more goals and they started playing more offensively because they played better defensively. I think once you play that way and the results follow and you’re scoring more goals as a team and you’re winning hockey games, I think that’s how you get the buy-in.
SN: Juuse Saros is having a spectacular year. What is it about him that makes him so strong on the net for this team? Is it the system in front of him or is it all of him? What has impressed you the most about him this year?
CM: Well, they are both. Once they started turning it around, you obviously won’t have as many Grade A chances against you. I think the game becomes a little more predictable, there are not so many breakdowns. You’re playing some amazing teams every night (and) you’re going to miss opportunities, you’re going to give up on the strangers’ race; But if you can reduce them and make them more predictable, you give the goalkeeper a better chance to make saves.
And what impressed me the most about him is: He’s one of the strongest technical goalkeepers in the NHL. It is almost robotic. Your ability to read, anticipate plays, and then process that information and react is almost instantaneous. I think the most impressive thing about this is how long he has kept that high level of play. … And for the last two months, since they started this race and he came back from injury, he’s been off.
SN: Pekka Rinne are the predators. Was it the last game last week in Nashville?
CM: You know what? I think there is only one man who can answer that question if it is his last game and I know that being in that situation, generally, that is not a decision that is made until the offseason. I know you love the game. I have the feeling that he is going to play. I have a feeling that he will think about this a lot after the season. I feel like he wants to play, that’s me. I just know how much he loves the game. I played with him. He’s a great competitor and he’s always pushing himself and I know he can still play and play well at this level.
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SN: In the last two games of the regular season, the Predators played the Hurricanes and won both. How important was it getting those wins and setting the tone for your first-round series?
CM: I think it was very important. I think if you ask Carolina why they didn’t play well and they sat down a lot of guys. … I think if you hear the message outside his dressing room: Hey, never mind, it was a game of nothing, we’re just glad no one got hurt. That’s the twist they’ll put on it.
But I think for the Predators, the last time they played them before this two-game stretch, they were a completely different team. May Nashville get that confidence and that belief that you can beat a team in the locker room and let Carolina know that, ‘Hey, we’re a different team than you saw earlier in the season and we play a different style.’ hockey and if you’re going to play with us, you’re going to have to get into the trenches and you’re going to have to fight and we’re going to turn it into a street fight. ‘ I think it did mean something.
SN: So how do you think predators compare to hurricanes?
CM: Obviously, if you look at Carolina, analytically, it is one of the best teams in the National Hockey League. They work hard. They are well trained. They have great special teams, they have more offensive superstar power. So they will probably be a huge favorite. I don’t expect anyone who chooses Preds to win. But that has been his story throughout the year.
So I think if they can get Carolina to play their game and if Nashville can do it, which isn’t always necessarily easy to do against a team as well as Carolina that moves the puck out of their zone so efficiently. But if you can get them to play a heavy game and go into battle areas and be really strong in the neutral zone and keep Carolina from going up the ice with speed, make it that kind of gritty playoffs, there’s no room out there. kind of hockey game and staying out of the penalty area, I think that will give them the best chance of winning.
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SN: Connor McDavid had an extraordinary season. What do you think of his year and, as a former goalkeeper, what would go through your mind if he was attacking you?
CM: Just to watch it, you marvel at the boy in every game. He’s amazing and he’s a player that just can’t be stopped, and I would have loved it just, obviously, I don’t want them to score every time you play against the guy, just to see and experience that.
There were some players I played against, I remember Pavel Datsyuk was the one for me. He amazed me at all the different things you could do in different situations and playing against him made me appreciate even more how good he was. You know, a lot of times it’s because I was a victim of his skill and his ability to play hockey.
I see Connor McDavid and you go into these games and you’re playing against the best players, the best goalkeepers in the world, and they know, they’ve seen videos, they’ve played him, they know what he’s doing … and they still can’t stop him. I think it’s really fascinating to see a player who is as dominant as he is in the sport of the best players in the world. … You know all the teams he plays against, their number one focal point is stopping Connor McDavid and they can’t do it. And it is simply amazing. It’s amazing.
SN: Auston Matthews also had a great year. What is it about his shot that you think makes him so, so deadly?
CM: Auston Matthews is a big guy. You can skate well for a great player, but your shot, your launch point can come from anywhere. … He’s so misleading, he has nothing to say. I know as a goalkeeper you look for signals in certain guys, certain body position, certain fakes in the way they start to move their body to give you some time to anticipate where they are going to shoot, but he has so many different shots. points, and he’s so precise and strong in the tight and the way he positions his body to put him in a position to shoot, and to get into those areas is almost second to none.
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SN: All right, final question, prediction time. Who has to come out of each division in the Stanley Cup playoffs?
CM: I’ll go, I think Vegas is going to come out (of the West). I think Toronto. I’m going with the Islanders, and outside of Central, I’d like to pick the Preds, but I think I’ll go with Tampa Bay.
SN: Do you choose the islanders for their attendance at goal?
CM: I chose the Islanders (because) I know Barry Trotz, and I feel like that’s a team that for some reason they, maybe because they’re not that exciting to watch I guess, but they don’t get the credit they deserve as a team for me who plays the right way. It is difficult to play against them. They have a good goal. They have some superstar players that they can score if given the chance. So I think they are a really brave and tough playoff style team.
SN: Who do you have going all the way and who is Conn Smythe’s boy?
CM: I think until the end, I will choose Las Vegas. I think Vegas or Colorado, but I’ll choose Vegas, and the Conn Smythe will be Mark Stone or Marc-Andre Fleury.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.