The Nashville Predators are out.
After another 100-point season and a second straight Central Division crown, the Predators are the latest victims of an upset-heavy first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Nashville was taken down in six games by the Dallas Stars, marking the first time the Preds failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs since 2015.
Let's take a look at where things went wrong for the Predators.
Lack of front-end scoring
Coming into this series, we knew that it would be a defensive battle; the Preds finished the regular season ranked 19th in offense and third in defense, while the Stars ranked 28th in offense and second in defense. Still, it was rather surprising how little Nashville got from its top line in this series.
The Filip Forsberg-Ryan Johansen-Viktor Arvidsson line combined for just two goals in this series -- a devastating development for a lineup that desperately needed them to carry their weight. Forsberg and Johansen had a goal and an assist each, and Arvidsson was completely blanked through the six games.
Nashville has been known to rely pretty heavily on that top line. The trio combined for 17 goals and 39 points through Nashville's 13 playoff games last year.
But they were almost completely silent throughout this series, enough so that head coach Peter Laviolette was compelled to split them up in Game 6 -- something that he doesn't typically like to do. The Stars' shutdown line of Radek Faksa, Blake Comeau and Andrew Cogliano deserve a lot of credit for forcing that change.
Ultimately, Rocco Grimaldi led all Predators forwards in goals and points (three). No offense to Grimaldi, but that's not exactly ideal.
That hideous power play
The Nashville power play was absolutely atrocious in this series, going a whopping 0 for 15. The team's struggles on the man advantage aren't exactly a new development considering the Preds finished dead last in the league with a 12.9 percent conversion rate during the regular season.
But even with those documented struggles, watching Nashville lay a big fat goose egg on the power play was pretty stunning. Laviolette attempted to make adjustments by moving around some pieces in hopes of catching a spark, but nothing worked. Special teams can often be a difference-maker in the postseason and it was a killer for the Preds, especially considering this was a defensive-minded series and their forward group wasn't producing much at five-on-five.
Between the regular season and playoffs, the Predators' power play went just 33 of 270 this season -- a horrifically low 12.2 percent.
The Stars' top six
I picked the Stars in an upset before this series started because I anticipated that their top line would outperform Nashville's and carry them to victory. And while Dallas' top line was certainly superior and sometimes flat-out dominant, it was really the entire top six that ran the show.
Much of the Stars' offense comes with that top line of Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Alex Radulov. They had a great series, accounting for six goals (and picking up six points apiece) in the six games. The trio was especially dominant in a pivotal Game 5 in Nashville, where they just straight-up dunked on the Predators' defensive corps.
But the guys on Dallas' second line consistently came through as well. Jason Dickinson, Roope Hintz and Mats Zuccarello combined for seven goals in the series, giving the Stars some of the secondary scoring that they lacked during the regular season. (Only one Stars forward outside of the top line finished with double-digit goals for Dallas.)
The mid-season addition of Zuccarello is paying dividends, as he's been producing and acting as a spark plug for the Stars' secondary unit while in the lineup.
Ben Bishop is a Vezina finalist for the third time in his career. Throughout this series, he did an excellent job of showing us why.
Bishop was rock solid between the pipes, stopping 206 of 218 shots against for a save percentage of .945 and a goals against average of 1.90. He also had a high-danger save percentage of .939. It wasn't exactly a case of running into a hot goaltender, as Bishop has been one of the league's best goalies all season, leading the league in save percentage with a .934 mark.
On the other side, Pekka Rinne wasn't nearly as good. He wasn't Nashville's biggest problem, but Rinne finished the series with a .905 save percentage, which is disappointing for a guy we've seen carry the Preds early in past postseasons. Rinne was pulled once during the series, after giving up four goals (three on the power play) on eight shots in the first period of Game 4.
It's hard to point fingers at Rinne considering how many issues the Preds had across the board, but the Stars undoubtedly had the goaltending advantage in this matchup.
Dallas' blue line play
As this series progressed, Dallas' defense -- especially its top pairing of Esa Lindell and John Klingberg -- held strong and did a great job of limiting the opportunities that Nashville was able to muster in the offensive zone. Specifically, the Stars did a solid job of keeping Nashville's slot opportunities at a minimum, instead forcing the Predators' shooters to work from the outside.
Klingberg also provided significant contributions on the offensive end, tallying six points -- including the series-clinching overtime goal in Game 6.
Between Dallas' defensive stinginess and Bishop playing at the top of his game, it was very difficult for the Preds' offense to get anything going at certain points during this series.