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VOL. 41 | NO. 20 | Friday, May 19, 2017

Fisher savors another chance at Stanley Cup

By John Glennon

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Predators center Mike Fisher is one of only three Nashville players – James Neal and P.K. Subban are the others – with experience playing in an NHL Conference Final series.

-- Ap Photo/Chris Carlson

It was a full decade ago that Nashville Predators center Mike Fisher made his first trip to the NHL’s Conference Finals. Fisher was just 26 then, emerging as one of the league’s better two-way forwards as he helped guide the Ottawa Senators to a surprising berth among the NHL’s final four teams that year.

So much has changed since.

Fisher has, in the past 10 years, married country music star Carrie Underwood, embraced the trade that brought him to Music City, fathered a child and been named the sixth captain in Predators’ franchise history.

Here he is again, though, in a conference final, with the Predators battling the Anaheim Ducks for the right to reach the Stanley Cup Final. Fisher is one of just three Predators – along with James Neal and P.K. Subban – who’ve ever advanced this far in in previous playoffs.

It’s impressive enough that the 36-year-old Fisher is still playing at all, considering the average NHL career only lasts between five and six years.

So, Fisher is especially appreciative of the fact that, after a 10-year absence from competing in a conference final, he’s back, trying to bring the Predators a Western Conference championship and a chance to compete for the Cup.

“It’s so hard to get there,” Fisher says of the conference finals. “It’s always a special thing, there’s no question, being there and getting the chance to play (in one).

“You win this series – that’s huge motivation – and you can move on to play for the Cup.”

A former second-round pick of Ottawa in the 1998 draft, Fisher actually reached the Eastern Conference final twice with the Senators.

The initial trip in 2003 marked the first time the Senators had ever advanced to the third round. Ottawa knocked off the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers before falling in seven games to the New Jersey Devils.

But the 2007 trip to the conference finals was more productive for both Fisher and the Senators.

Thanks, in part, to a strong postseason performance by Fisher – 10 points (five goals, five assists in 20 games – Ottawa broke through and reached the Stanley Cup Final, knocking off Buffalo in an overtime contest to capture the Eastern Conference title.

Ottowa went on to lose the championship to Anaheim in five games.

“Just knowing you’re going to compete for the Cup is a pretty cool feeling,” Fisher recalls of that night.

“It was pretty exciting. It ended so quickly. I remember the celebration afterward, in the locker room of the old Buffalo arena. Guys were so fired up. I can remember them bringing in the (Eastern Conference champion trophy) and nobody touching it (because of superstition).”

Following his trade to Nashville in 2011, Fisher wasted little time in helping the Predators reach a postseason milestone. Thanks to another good playoff outing by Fisher – seven points (three goals, four assists) in 12 games – the Predators advanced beyond the first round for the first time in franchise history.

Heading into this season, the 6-1, 216-pound Fisher was looking to bounce back from a 23-point year in 2015-16, the lowest full-season total of his career. He not only responded with 42 points this season, but also led the Preds in hits, finished first in penalty-killing time among forwards and finished second among Preds forwards in blocked shots.

“He’s still a bull out there on the ice,” Predators goalie Pekka Rinne points out. “He’s so strong. When he hits, it’s like a concrete wall. He plays tough. He plays the game the right way – at both ends of the ice, a two-way player.”

In addition, Fisher took on the weighty role of captain for the first time in his career, replacing former franchise cornerstone Shea Weber, who’d worn the “C” for the past six years.

“I don’t know if he’s really changed too much this year, but I think he understands and appreciates his role,” Rinne adds.

“I think he really cares about everybody, which to me is one of the greatest qualities in him.

“He’s the kind of guy that looks after everybody, asks how the family is doing and things like that. It’s not just him asking to be nice. He actually cares. Things like that make him a really good leader and captain.”

His contributions as a captain and a leader haven’t been lost on Predators coach Peter Laviolette, either.

Though Fisher had been struggling offensively in the postseason – he hadn’t recorded a point in the Preds’ first 13 playoff games – Laviolette praises the veteran’s performance. The Ontario native led Predators forwards during that same playoff stretch in blocked shots, was tops among Preds forwards in penalty-killing time and was third on the team in hits.

“I think he’s played really well,” Laviolette says. “I mean, he’s taken on a role inside of our room as a terrific leader on the ice, a guy who leads by example. It’s not about individual points right now.

“It’s about making sure that our team moves on and plays the right way and prepares the right way if he sets the example for everything that we do.”

The long-term future for Fisher isn’t completely clear at present, since his current contract expires after this season. Both sides have expressed an interest in Fisher continuing his career in Music City, so it’s likely he will remain.

As for the present, though, Fisher will continue to enjoy this very special 10-year anniversary of his last trip to the conference finals, hoping the current journey results in the Predators’ first Stanley Cup.

“That,” Fisher says, “is really the only motivation you need.”

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

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