Puck Daddy - NHL

Shea Weber has never missed playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

That's either an indication of the all-star defenseman's relative inexperience at the NHL level, or a reminder that the Nashville Predators' consistency as a franchise is vastly underappreciated.

"Each year is like an experience you can draw from, and I think everyone's comfortable about the position we're in," said Weber, one day after his team rallied for an emotional 4-3 win at the Detroit Red Wings, moving into seventh place in the Western Conference with 84 points.

"The fate is really in our hands. As long as we do our job, we're going to get into the playoffs."

By the numbers, the Predators control their own fate with six games left, none of them easy. It's an odd notion considering how the fates have seemingly lined up against Nashville annually: the economic uncertainty; the ownership squabbles; the crippling injuries, including Martin Erat's broken leg last night; the frustrating turnover in personnel, like the still-irreplaceable Alexander Radulov's defection to Russia; and, of course, the vibe that the Predators are never the mainstream pick to make the playoff cut.

Be honest: After four consecutive first-round exits, you're not exactly foaming with enthusiasm about the Predators making the cut again. The intrigue and potential storylines for the Columbus Blue Jackets, St. Louis Blues, Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers are sexier.

The Predators ... well, they're just the Predators, right?

Weber's seen this stuff for four seasons. Does he feel the Predators are underappreciated?

"It's something we don't mind too much," he said with a chuckle. "We're under the radar, going about our business. Every year we seem to find a way to prove the doubters wrong."

For a while, Weber was on the hockey mainstream radar this season: a dark horse Norris Trophy campaign and an NHL All-Star Game selection. He's currently seventh in scoring for defensemen, and has established career-highs in goals (21), assists (29), points (50), power-play goals (9), power-play assists (9) and game-winning goals (4). His 232 shots, also a career best, rank third among NHL defensemen.

"Is that good?" he asked with a laugh.

He's registered a shot on goal in seven consecutive games; perhaps not coincidentally, Weber has also been on an offensive tear during a 5-0-3 run for Nashville, scoring three goals and five assists, with four power-play points.

The man advantage hasn't exactly been a happy place for the Predators this season, with a dismal ranking of 26th in the League. 

"We work on it every day," Weber said. "It's gone OK so far. Obviously, it's not great in numbers but down the stretch it's gotten us some big goals and changed the momentum in the game."

Momentum is something Nashville's had plenty of since offensive sparkplug Steve Sullivan returned from nearly two years of injury rehab. Sullivan has 26 points in 35 games; more importantly, according to Weber, he's been a veteran inspiration for the Predators. 

"It was just a tremendous boost, for a guy to come back after two years and perform the way he has. It's pretty special," he said. "Just having him the dressing room, because he's an experienced guy."

Sullivan has six points in his last three games, helping to boost an offense that's now missing Erat and Jason Arnott, struggling to return after a concussion. The Predators have lost their share of games to injury, with just two non-defensemen playing 75 or more games on the year.

Of course, the flip side is that the Predators had four defensemen who have played 75 games or more this season: Dan Hamhuis, Ryan Suter, Greg Zanon and Weber. Nashville is eighth in the NHL in goals against, thanks to that blue line and rookie goalie Pekka Rinne in back of it.

Injuries, Weber said, are just a fact of life in the NHL. "It think it's happened to us every year," he said. "It's part of the game. The ability of  a team to rally around each other and fill the holes [is important]; especially with our farm system in Milwaukee, we're able to call guys up and they step up and play bigger roles."

Like any burgeoning star, Weber's been asked to play a bigger role this season. Sometimes, that responsibility as a leader has led to strange places -- like his infamous three consecutive games with a fight earlier this month.

What was that about?

"I don't know," he said.

Was he in a bad mood or something?

"Nah, it just happened. Just certain times players get frustrated, things happen and it just happened to be three games in a row rather than being spread out," he said.

It was a learning experience for Weber, whose coaches mentioned that perhaps leaving the ice for five minutes as one of the team's primary defensemen wasn't the wisest of decisions.

"I think they wanted me to pick my spots a little bit better and slow down."

There's no slowing down for Nashville, in the thick of one of the most competitive playoff races in recent memory. Weber said mental breaks are vital at this point -- getting away from the rink, checking out on hockey for a while ... seeing a movie or something.

What was the last flick Weber watched?

"'I Love You Man.'" [Ed. Note: Awkward.]

The Shea Weber review: "I thought it was hilarious."

Eventually, the mind wanders back to the frantic scramble for the playoffs, and Weber admits to checking the standings.

But in the end, his team will determine whether his postseason streak continues in these final few games.  

"You look [at the standings] once in a while. It's real tight. It's going to be tight until the end," he said.

"But it's up to us."

Related Articles

Puck Daddy

Add to My Yahoo RSS

Related Photo Gallery

Y! Sports Blog