On the opening night of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Nashville Predators took a pretty big step in the right direction. On the road, against the red-hot Anaheim Ducks, star goaltender Pekka Rinne backstopped an impressive 4-1 victory.
Top defenseman Shea Weber set the tempo in the opening minutes by plastering Ducks vet Teemu Selanne into the corner boards. Moments later, Weber opened the scoring by ripping a slapper past former teammate Dan Ellis, who got the start in the Ducks' net.
Of the five games on the first night of the postseason schedule, the Predators were the only team to score a road victory. Those wins are big. When the series resumes Friday night, the Ducks already will have their backs against the wall.
As we prepare for the other three series to get under way tonight, here's the second half of my look at the teams that have already started planning for next season.
EAST | WEST
What went wrong?
When you finish with 42 wins and 95 points, you usually don't find yourself on the golf course in April. Of course, the Stars wouldn't be there if they'd beaten the Wild in the final game of the regular season.
It really shouldn't have come to that, however. The Stars enjoyed a terrific first half, but stumbled in their final 35 games, going just 13-16-6. In March, they didn't make much hay for themselves during a seven-game stint on home ice, picking up just six of a possible 14 points. That was an even bigger missed opportunity.
Two days after the loss in Minnesota, GM Joe Nieuwendyk opted to fire head coach Marc Crawford, who had two non-playoff years in Big D. I don't know who they'll hire next, but they do really like Glen Gulutzan, who coaches the Texas Stars, the club's AHL affiliate. He'll be among the candidates.
Nieuwendyk's job would get a little easier if the ownership situation were resolved. The franchise remains on the open market. Until a sale is finalized, Nieuwendyk will be working with a tight budget.
The financial restrictions will make it tough to re-sign unrestricted free agent center Brad Richards. The former Conn Smythe Trophy winner likes life in Dallas, but he'll likely leave for greener, richer pastures in the summer.