NASHVILLE — Peter Laviolette has delivered the first piece of the job the Nashville Predators gave him by hiring him as only their second head coach.
Now his task is even bigger: Deliver a deep postseason run, and maybe, just maybe, a championship to Music City.
“I think we’re excited,” captain Shea Weber said. “It’s a new time and something that we’re going to experience with a new coach. We’re going to obviously all try to work to that big goal, the Stanley Cup.”
The Predators made a coaching change a year ago when Barry Trotz missed the playoffs for a second straight year, and general manager David Poile hired Laviolette as his replacement not only to help Nashville return to the playoffs but because of the coach’s extensive postseason experience.
Laviolette is 9-5 in postseason series as a head coach with a 44-38 record, and Nashville is the fourth different franchise he has taken to the playoffs. Laviolette took the New York Islanders to the playoffs in both his seasons there. In his first full season in Carolina, he coached the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup in 2006. He also coached Philadelphia to the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals after taking over with 57 games left in the season.
The Predators open the postseason against Chicago, hosting Game 1 on Wednesday, April 15.
Laviolette dismissed any thought that his record of early playoff success with his past teams will translate immediately to Nashville, even though the Predators finished second in the Central Division and 0-4-2 after clinching their berth.
“Our group has had to make their own way, and it’s the players that deserve the credit for that because they have to go out on the ice and compete and execute,” Laviolette said. “I think there’s a lot of confidence in the way we play, but … I don’t think anything from the past is going to factor into that.”
Laviolette’s touch on the Predators is easy to see. They skate fast and more aggressively. He invigorated the offense allowing defensemen to join in the rush whenever they see an opportunity, and Nashville ranked third in five-on-five goals scored and allowed. Nashville’s defense remained as stingy as ever with goaltender Pekka Rinne second with 41 wins.
Center Matt Cullen, who won that Stanley Cup with Laviolette in Carolina, said the coach’s influence on the Predators can be seen in how they play.
“It’s a pretty up-tempo, high-octane kind of hockey, and he brings that attitude every day,” Cullen said. “It’s fun to see. That hasn’t changed. He obviously loves the game and brings a lot of passion to the rink, and I think that rubs off on the player and the style of play that his teams play.”
The Predators have some players with postseason experience aside from Cullen. Left wing James Neal played in 38 postseason games in Pittsburgh, and Weber and Rinne helped Nashville reach back-to-back Western Conference semifinals in 2011 and 2012. Having a chance at the Stanley Cup means winning three series over a two-month stretch.
That’s where the Predators think Laviolette’s experience will help best. Rinne noted momentum swings back and forth in the playoffs, and an experienced coach can help.
“It’s an emotional run always, and it helps us to have those guys,” Rinne said.
Weber said Laviolette having won a Stanley Cup makes his experience invaluable.
“You love having those guys in your locker room, on your team, and then you get a coach who’s done it before, that’s obviously something that can help,” Weber said. “He’s probably went through a lot of different situations that year that we might have to go through now, and he can use those experiences for us.”
Past success is no guarantee of future titles, even with Laviolette’s resume.
“So many things that have to happen and fall into place to get to the final or go real deep,” Cullen said. “So we’re hopeful. We like our game, and we like the position we’re in. Now it’s a matter of going and trying to put together our best hockey for a couple of months.”