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VOL. 41 | NO. 17 | Friday, April 28, 2017

Predators learning, growing with each playoff experience

By John Glennon

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Having just produced the greatest playoff accomplishment in franchise history, the Nashville Predators are now looking to take another milestone step.

The next challenge is to advance beyond the second round of the postseason, something none of the Predators’ nine previous playoff teams have done. They took a big step Wednesday night with a 4-3 second round win at St. Louis and will play Game 2 there Friday night.

It’s a goal that will again have to be achieved in the underdog role, as the Predators – the bottom seed in the Western Conference – face a St. Louis team that finished five points ahead of them during the regular season.

But Nashville beat the Blues in three of five meetings during the regular season.

“We have one goal this year and that’s to just keep going, to be better than we were last year,” says Mike Fisher, Predators captain, whose team came within one victory of reaching the third round last year.

“The only thing that matters is to beat that next team and then we’ll keep going.”

The good news for the Predators is that they are moving into the second round with a huge dose of confidence after a stunning sweep of the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the first round.

It marked the fourth time the Predators had moved on to the second round, but never before had Nashville knocked off the highest seed in the Western Conference – and never before had the Preds swept a playoff series.

On top of all that, the Predators turned the tables on a 50-win Chicago team that had beaten Nashville four times in five games during the regular season.

“We probably shocked a lot of people,” adds Ryan Ellis, Predators defenseman. “I’m obviously happy the way it all went, but like I’ve said, we feel confidence in our group and we weren’t shocked in the least.”

The roots of the Predators’ playoff upset over Chicago may actually date back to 2015, when the Blackhawks downed Nashville 4-2 in a first-round playoff series.

Many players that form the core of the current Preds team were just getting their first taste of postseason hockey at that point. Included in the group were defenseman Mattias Ekholm and forwards Filip Forsberg, Kevin Fiala and Calle Jarnkrok – all mainstays on the present Preds.

Fiala is out for the remainder of the series after breaking a leg in Game One at St. Louis.

In addition, current Preds forwards Colton Sissons and Austin Watson were on Nashville’s playoff roster, even though neither appeared in a game that year.

Though the Predators lost that series against Chicago, it was a highly competitive match-up. The Preds not only won two of the first three games, but went to overtime in two of the losses.

“We were very young at the time,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette says. “But you go back and look at that series, and we felt like we did a lot of things right, and we felt like we played good enough to win.

“It didn’t happen for us … but I think more than anything, you can take confidence from that and say we’ve played these guys tough before.”

Another step in the Preds’ growth process occurred in the 2016 playoffs, when the team forged some more character through challenging circumstances.

The Preds captured their first Game 7 victory in the opening round against second-seeded Anaheim, rallying to win the series after trailing 3-2. In the second round, the Predators captured two overtime victories and took favored San Jose to seven games before falling.

“I think the last two years of playoffs has been a great learning curve for us,” Ellis points out.

“Last year, going ahead of Anaheim (2-0 in the series) and then falling behind (3-2) before winning Game 7, I think we learned a lot about the emotion level and the highs and lows of the playoffs. I think the best way to go about it is staying on an even keel.”

Reach John Glennon at glennonsports@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.

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