Perhaps the Nashville Predators should have held onto it for these 2016-17 playoffs.
The Predators have had their fair share of historic moments in the last decade: their first-ever series win in 2011, finally beating the Detroit Red Wings in a playoff series in 2012, and their first-ever Game Seven victory in 2016.
They all pale in comparison to what took place at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday.
In front of a frenzied and eardrum-shatteringly loud crowd, the Predators finished off a sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks with a 4-1 victory. It was their first sweep in franchise history, their first playoff series win over Chicago in three tries and the first time the Blackhawks have been swept in a series since 1993.
An unprecedented statement series sweep like that might start turning some heads around the NHL.
“I don’t think we can go unnoticed anymore,” goaltender Pekka Rinne said. “That’s for sure. I don’t really care, you just try to have that mindset that everything that happens in this locker room. It just stays here, and we are in this together and playing for each other. I think this is going create some noise, and the way we’ve played, I think we can be proud of the way we played. We played really good hockey and beat a really good team.”
With the exception of a handful of hockey analysts across the internet and television, the hockey world generally thought the Blackhawks would steamroll the Predators in the first round. Even those who picked the Predators couldn’t have imagined a sweep in which Chicago scored just three goals in the entire series.
Brackets. Busted. 🙋🏼🙋🏼🙋🏼🙋🏼🙋🏼 pic.twitter.com/sN1NL0LLrw
— Nashville Predators (@PredsNHL) April 21, 2017
The rest of the hockey world might be surprised. The Predators are not.
“I think there’s probably more surprise on the outside of this room,” said Ryan Ellis. “We know we’re a good hockey club and if we play our game, if we’re committed to the things we have to do, we feel very confident in our group. We probably shocked a lot of people, but obviously we’re happy with the way it all went. But, we feel confident in our group and not shocked in the least.”
After the Red Wings moved to the Eastern Conference in realignment, the Predators’ attention shifted to the Blackhawks. There was already some bad blood, especially after the way Chicago pulled out a first-round series win in 2010. The painful memory of 2010 Game Five in Chicago probably still stings in some people’s memories.
Five years later, the new-look Predators had a shot at redemption in the first round. At times, it looked like the Predators would finally be able to get over the hump. It didn’t go their way, and the Blackhawks moved on in six games en route to a second Stanley Cup title.
In 2017, the 800-pound gorilla jumped off their back. The significance of such a statement series win was not lost on Rinne, the only remaining Predator from that 2010 squad.
“I can’t say what David Poile thinks, but he’s been here a long time and he’s watched Chicago win some Cups and watched us getting beaten by Chicago, so personally too, it’s a great feeling,” he said. “I feel like in 2010, 2015 we lost against these guys in the first round, and now we had the chance to redeem ourselves and get a little payback. It’s a great feeling, and I think for the organization, it goes pretty high up there.”
There is no doubt that this series win will go down as one of the finest in Predators history. However, the players in the Predators dressing room don’t want to let it become the definition of their 2016-17 season.
The end of the line is far beyond just a sweep of the Blackhawks.
“We have one goal and that this year is just to keep going and be better than we were last year and continue on,” said Mike Fisher, who was on the 2010-11 Predators team that won the first playoff series in franchise history. “Our focus is on the next series. Wherever it ranks, honestly it doesn’t matter right now. The only thing that matters is what’s next and what we’ve got to do to be better and to beat that next team and we’ll keep going.”
That “on to the next one” attitude may be the difference between the expansion darling Predators and perennial Cup contender Predators. However historic this sweep is, as far as they’re concerned, the Predators haven’t heard the fat lady sing. It’s not over.
Now, the Predators await the winner of the series between the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues. Nashville was successful against both teams during the regular season, but as they showed in this series against Chicago, the playoffs are truly the season after the season.
According to head coach Peter Laviolette, they don’t feel like they’ve earned anything quite yet.
“Any team that made it into the playoffs is a really good team,” he said. “They can beat anybody on any given night. At some point, after the first round, there will be eight teams left and they’ll all be great hockey teams. I don’t think we’ve put anyone on notice.”
Game One between the Predators and the winner of the Wild-Blues series will be on the road. Date and time TBA.