Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne, right, sits on the bench after being pulled, next to teammates Barret Jackman (5) and Roman Josi (59) during the third period of Game 7 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinal series against the Sa
Marcio Jose Sanchez
May 13, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The longest playoff run in Nashville Predators' history is over.

But the Predators can take some solace in the bleak, empty moment: their future looks good.

''Guys felt like this was our season, our opportunity,'' goalie Pekka Rinne said. ''But there is a lot of talent, and there's a light at the end of the tunnel.''

Filip Forsberg and James Neal scored at least 30 goals apiece with six reaching 50 points. The Predators also tied for the most points by a defensive corps in the NHL with 203. In the playoffs, they beat Anaheim, a team mentioned as a favorite to win the Stanley Cup, in seven games a year after a first-round playoff exit.

General manager David Poile traded defenseman Seth Jones for center Ryan Johansen in January, providing a boost. But Poile stood pat at the trade deadline, trusting Jimmy Vesey would sign once the player's college career at Harvard ended only to have Vesey spurn Nashville for free agency in August.

Defenseman Ryan Ellis said the Predators gained some crucial experience from this postseason.

''We'll just have to regroup and come back next year,'' Ellis said.

But the frustration at falling one win shy of reaching the franchise's first Western Conference final won't be forgotten anytime soon, maybe never.

Rinne summed up how the team feels when he broke his stick against the post before skating to the bench for the final time.

All the joy of winning the franchise's first Game 7 and capturing just the third first-round series in team history was lost in an ugly 5-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks in Game 7.

''You never know when you're going to get this chance,'' Rinne said. ''Guys get older. That's the worst feeling. It's an empty feeling.''


Here are some things to know about the Predators before next season:

WEBER STRUGGLES: Captain Shea Weber and his defensive partner Roman Josi each struggled this postseason, and no more than with a berth in the Western finals on the line Thursday night. The All-Star defensemen were on the ice for all five goals in an ugly loss to San Jose. The captain, who turns 31 in August, was minus-7 in the postseason as he and Josi faced the top lines of the Ducks and Sharks. ''I know I could have been better,'' Weber said. ''It's hard. It's just tough right now.''

RINNE: The three-time Vezina Trophy finalist turns 34 in November with three years left on his contract. He gave up some ugly goals this postseason but was at his best as Nashville won the last two games against Anaheim and again in Game 7 at San Jose.

OVERTIME WOES: Yes, the Predators won a triple-overtime thriller in Game 4 against the Sharks and a second in overtime of Game 6. But no team logged more air miles than Nashville with five flights to California that might've been avoided if the Predators were better during the regular season in overtime. The Predators, who finished five points behind Chicago for the third spot in the Central Division, went 2-12 in 3-on-3 overtime.

CONTRACT DECISIONS: Center Mike Ribeiro was a healthy scratch twice against the Sharks and finished with just two assists this postseason with a minus-3 rating. The Predators have him under contract for another season for $3.5 million, but his production dropped to 50 points during the season. The more pressing decision will feature Forsberg, who's a restricted free agent after tying the franchise record with 33 goals this season. Rinne's backup, Carter Hutton, is unrestricted, and the Predators must decide if it's time to pull Marek Mazanec up from the AHL for that role.

YOUTHFUL ROSTER: Four rookies played for Nashville during this postseason with Viktor Arvidsson, Anthony Bitetto and Miikka Salomaki on the ice for every game. Arvidsson won Game 6 of the second-round with his first career goal.

--- AP Sports Writer Josh Dubow contributed to this report.

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