At 94 points, the Nashville Predators entered the Stanley Cup playoffs in April with the worst record of the 16 squads hoping to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup. A month later, the last team to get into the playoffs is now the first team to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.
Colton Sissons completed a hat trick and broke a 3-3 tie with six minutes left in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals against the Anaheim Ducks, giving the Predators a lead they would hold until the final horn, the league website reported. After two empty-net goals from Filip Forsberg and Austin Watson, Nashville had a 6-3 victory that clinched the franchise’s first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, as they finished off the Ducks by a margin of four games to two to claim the Clarence Campbell Bowl.
Since joining the league in 1997, the Nashville Predators had never been a real threat to contend in a conference that included league titans in the Chicago Blackhawks and the Los Angeles Kings. Prior to 2017, the Predators’ 20th season in the league, Nashville had never been beyond the second round of the playoffs and had won just three series in nine trips to the postseason.
The odds were long that the Nashville Predators would have their breakthrough in 2017 when they drew the top-seeded Blackhawks in the first round, but the Predators quickly upended the Western Conference by shutting out the Central Division champions until the third game of their series and ending Chicago’s season with a four-game sweep. In the process, Nashville became the first team to sweep its conference’s top seed in the first round since 1993.
The Predators then followed up by bumping out St. Louis and now Anaheim, matching the previous 19 years in just one postseason. Despite losing leading postseason scorer Ryan Johansen for the remainder of the playoffs, the Predators were in solid form against the Ducks, riding goaltender Pekka Rinne’s 38 saves to the series-clinching victory.
The Predators will open the Stanley Cup Finals on the road against the Eastern Conference champion, which will either be the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Ottawa Senators. The Penguins currently hold a 3-2 lead in that series, which resumes on Tuesday night in Ottawa. The Predators split their two games this season against the Penguins, taking a 5-1 decision in Tennessee and falling 4-2 to the defending Stanley Cup champions in Pittsburgh.
The Nashville Predators were far more successful against Ottawa, beating the Senators 3-1 in Nashville and 5-1 nine days later in Ottawa. However, the loss at Pittsburgh marked the only time Nashville has faced either the Penguins or the Senators since November, meaning the early results will likely have little bearing on the finals.
Readers, are you surprised by the Predators’ run to the final? Who would you want to face if you were Nashville? Who do you expect Nashville to face? Sound off in the comments and like and share this story!
By Dan Angell
Photo Courtesy Twitter