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VOL. 41 | NO. 16 | Friday, April 21, 2017

Next step for Predators: Getting beyond second round

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NASHVILLE (AP) — Now that they've swept the Western Conference's top seed out of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Nashville Predators want to continue making history by finally advancing beyond the second round.

The Predators have been around since 1998-99 but never have won a second-round playoff series. They came close last year before losing a seventh game to the San Jose Sharks.

Then again, the Predators also had never recorded a playoff sweep or had won a postseason series with the Chicago Blackhawks before this week.

"We've got a lot of work to do," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said Thursday night after a 4-1 victory that completed the stunning sweep of Chicago. "It's such a long process. I promise you this, the next round will be harder than this one. That's not to disrespect (the Blackhawks). It's just the way the playoffs go. It gets harder in the second round. It gets harder in the third round. And when you're in the Finals, it's lightning speed and ridiculously hard. That's the nature of the Stanley Cup playoffs."

The Predators next face the winner of the St. Louis Blues-Minnesota Wild quarterfinal, a series St. Louis leads 3-1.

"Right now, I don't really care who we play against," goalie Pekka Rinne said. "If we can keep this up, I feel really confident facing anybody."

Rinne has reason to feel confident after allowing just one even-strength goal during the entire series with Chicago. The Predators got peak performances up and down their roster in outscoring the Blackhawks 13-3 and avenging 2010 and 2015 first-round playoff losses to Chicago.

This marked the first time a No. 1 seed has lost in the opening round since the Los Angeles Kings knocked off the Vancouver Canucks on their way to the Stanley Cup title in 2012. The Predators became the first team to sweep a No. 1 seed in the opening round since the NHL adopted its current playoff format in 1994.

"I think we'll probably gain a little more respect around the league," forward Colton Sissons said.

The Predators finally are performing up to their lofty preseason expectations.

Nashville built one of its most talent-laden teams in franchise history after an offseason that included the blockbuster acquisition of P.K. Subban in a trade that sent Shea Weber to Montreal. But the Predators were inconsistent during the regular season and struggled enough to get stuck facing the Western Conference's top seed in the opening round of the playoffs.

"We always had confidence in this locker room," defenseman Roman Josi said. "Even the years before when there wasn't much attention on our team, we always had confidence, and I thought we played really well toward the end of the season. We had our struggles early on in the year, but toward the end of the season we played more consistent, and we carried that into the playoffs."

Ryan Johansen has stepped up his game by collecting one goal and five assists in the four-game sweep. Nashville's No. 1 line of Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson had a dominant first-round series and will try to maintain that momentum the rest of the postseason.

This marks the fourth time in the last seven seasons that the Predators have reached the second round of the playoffs. They lost a six-game series to Vancouver in 2011 and fell in five games to the Phoenix Coyotes in 2012 before taking San Jose to a seventh game last season.

Now they're eager to take the next step.

"We're just, we're scratching the surface," Laviolette said. "It's a job well done, but when we wake up tomorrow, we've got to go back to work. There's a lot of work left to do."

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