Photo courtesy of predators.nhl.com
“Nashville, Tennessee, home of the Predators.”
As crazy as it sounds, the town now known as Smashville is a hockey town. The Titans have taken the back seat and since the town is still without a major league baseball team, the focus is all on the Preds.
Since the birth of the franchise in 1998, true fans have patiently waited for tonight. It hasn’t been an easy journey, but with a win in game seven against the San Jose sharks, the Predators could solidify themselves into an elite class of hockey clubs.
Coming into the playoffs, everyone knew what to expect; the Predators would give the town a little excitement, but would lose early in the second round, if they even got that far. For 18 years, this was the mindset. A Preds hockey game was something people went to so they could drink and watch grown men fight. Most people knew that there was a guy on the team married to Carrie Underwood (Mike Fisher) and that the goalie had a funny name (Pekka Rinne), but that was all.
But, after being down three games to two in back-to-back series with thrilling overtime wins at home, the fan base has exploded. From Memphis to Mount LeConte, the Nashville Predators are now the “Tennessee” Predators. With a chance to be a part of history, these new hockey fans are along for the ride.
To be one of the final eight clubs left playing says a lot about the team play of the Predators, but of this postseason, no names have meant as much as Collin Wilson, Mike Fisher, and James Neal.
Throughout the 13 playoff games, the trio has accounted for 14 goals while the rest of the team has chipped in just 17.
On the defensive side, 33-year old goalie Pekka Rinne has shown why we should never stereotype someone because of his/her age.
Heading into game six of the first round, rumors swirled around the media that it would be Rinne’s final game in gold. Since then, the veteran has nearly guaranteed himself a contract extension, saving 225 of the 243 shots attempted (92.5%). But more importantly, Rinne didn’t allow a goal during the combined four extra periods of overtime against the Sharks.
As of right now though, no one is more popular in Smashville than that of Viktor Arvidsson. His first career playoff goal happened to be the biggest shot in franchise history, giving the Preds the winning goal in overtime and extending the series to the team’s second game seven of the postseason.
What’s on the line?
The 2011 team made it to game six of the second round, but no Predator team has ever advanced this far.
The victor of Thursday night will advance to the Western Conference Finals, meeting the St. Louis Blues who are currently resting after their game seven win over the Dallas Stars. Besides the two-day rest before the start of round two, the Preds have played every other day since the start of the postseason on April 19.
Because of the previously scheduled Selena Gomez concert in the SAP Center Wednesday night, both teams were given another day of rest.
The Preds are 24-10-5 under Coach Peter Laviolette when coming off a two-day rest. This stat coupled with the fact that Coach Laviolette is 5-0-0 in his last five game seven appearances is not something from which to shy away.
It is said that rest is a weapon come playoff time. So if the Predators can pull out the victory Thursday night against the Sharks, Selena Gomez should be a likely candidate to sing the national anthem at the next home game.
The puck is expected to drop at 8 p.m. and can be seen on NBCS. There will also be a free viewing party outside of Bridgestone Arena (moved inside if it rains).