Preds, Trotz are survivors

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

Barry Trotz has heard the whispers, seen the stares. His team has lost its head, the thinking goes, and will be put out of its misery soon enough.

The day the Nashville Predators lost goalie Tomas Vokoun for the season, the curtain may as well have come down on hockey in the Music City.

Career backup Chris Mason will shoulder the load in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Chris who, you ask?

A 29-year-old career backup with all of 21 games under his belt going into the season, none of them in the playoffs, that's who.

Suddenly, the Preds are the free space on everybody's bingo card, a playoff patsy that'll barely let out a whimper as they're annihilated in the first round.

Not surprisingly, Trotz has a little something to say about all that.

After all, people who grow up in Dauphin don't throw in the towel that easily.

"If they want to play us, great," Trotz told the Sun from Nashville. "I'll tell you what, they're going to have their hands full. There's no question people are writing us off. Everybody from the media to everybody around the league is writing us off. You've got to know our team. We're more than Tomas Vokoun."

Just to prove it, the Preds put together a nice little five-game win streak, going into last night's regular-season finale against Detroit.

And Mason? He might not be able to stop a beach ball, but he's doing just fine with pucks, allowing four goals during that span.

"It's going to be a tougher task to get what we want accomplished done, but I think it's going to galvanize us as a team," Trotz said. "We're going to be all right. We've had so many injuries all year, it really doesn't matter who we've got in."

The numbers back him up.

Going into last night, Nashville had thrown up 48 wins and 104 points, both franchise records. That, despite an assortment of injuries that currently have two of the team's top five scorers -- Steve Sullivan and Marek Zidlicky -- out of the lineup.

"The guys that are there, that's our lineup," Trotz said. "And if they show up in our lineup, God bless 'em, we'll put 'em in. I think we're pretty resilient that way. We block it out. It's almost like being in the military or the police force. If someone goes down, you remember them, but you move on."

As the general, Trotz, 43, has had his troops on a steady march forward.

Two years ago, they made the playoffs for the first time. This time, he's got his binoculars trained on a more distant target.

"Win the Stanley Cup, like everybody else," he said.

Laugh, if you want.

You could argue Trotz has already beaten bigger odds simply by lasting as long as he has.

Seven seasons with the same team, an expansion team, no less. The only person to coach in Nashville. The longest tenure of any expansion team coach in NHL history.

After missing the playoffs his first five years, it must be awfully nice to finally be reaping some rewards.

Think Trotz is ready to take the credit, though?

"Absolutely not," he said. "I don't play any games. As a coach, you create the atmosphere. You create the culture. And then the players take it over."

That may be. But players sometimes take on the personality of their coach, too.

If that's the case, the Predators will be a handful, no matter who's in goal for the playoffs.


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