Ok, so I know what you’re thinking and/or feeling. I’m not going to deny it sucks. It does. You think you’ve made it this far and you’ve dropped the first two games to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final.
THE STANLEY CUP FINAL!!!
So, I’m going to give some of y’all a little dose of tough love. Like back when you were a kid and you looked at your parents with the most traumatized look that they would punish you, you look back now and realize you’re a better person for it. My hopes is after I make you go outside and pick your switch, you’re going to be able to enjoy Games 3 and 4 as the Final leaves the Steel City and comes home to Nashville.
That’s your first job: Realize there will be a live NHL game being played inside of Bridgestone Arena in JUNE! There are 28 other NHL teams that have roughly 30 players on their roster that would slap their mommas to have this opportunity. And to top that? You are fans of an organization that is hellbent on making Preds hockey the greatest spectacle you will ever experience in your life! From the national anthem singers to GRAMMY Award winner Alan Jackson being slotted to play outside prior to the start of Game 3, the Predators organization is rewarding what I consider to be the greatest fan base in all of sports (some may consider that a hyperbole, but find me one better).
The next thing you need to do is realize, and this might be the “this hurts me more than it does you” moment, that the Penguins are just damn good. There’s really no other way to put it. Sure, the Preds have out-shot, outhit, out-skated and out-PR’ed their entire city (I mean, really…you’re gonna try and criminally charge someone throwing seafood? C’mon, Pittsburgh…you can’t really be that lame, can you), but the one stat that matters the most: 9-4. That’s your goals against/for versus the defending champs. Oh, that’s the other part of this. The Pens have been here. They know what’s up. I’m not saying Nashville has played nervous or timid. The exact opposite. And, in my books…that’s been their problem. In the previous rounds, they seemingly trapped Chicago, St. Louis and Anaheim into thinking they were controlling play, and in some instances, they were. But not one time did you ever feel that the game was out of the Preds’ grasp. As the shot total kept mounting against Matt Murray, you could tell people were getting the nervous, “Oh geez! If some of these don’t start going in, they’re going to end up behind Pekka.”
That brings me to my last dose of medicine for you. Pekka is snakebit by the Penguins. Say what you will about playoffs being different from the regular season or that the team hasn’t played well in front of him (which they absolutely haven’t). Hockey is a very mental sport as it is. Goaltending is the PhD of hockey. The Penguins are in Rinne’s head. Having the team play lights out in front of him will definitely help, but unless he can steal a game on his own, where he stops 40-plus and wins 1-0, he’ll forever be haunted by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Now, there are some things that I believe needs to happen, and quickly in order for this thing to turn around, and yes…you darn skippy this thing can still be won. For those of you reading this who think otherwise, get to the back of the bus. June hockey has absolutely no time for doubters. You believed this long and look where it got you, and now you’re ready to torch the thing. Nope. Bye, Felicia.
So, first thing that needs to happen is no more open practices. Once the Preds eliminated the Ducks, they should have locked the door from the inside and put aluminum foil on the windows. This also goes for airport send offs and returns. Hockey players grow up wanting to be rockstars. Once you start treating them like rockstars, they start getting blinded by the bright lights and headlines. No more. Time to take off the sunglasses and Gucci suits and put on a hard hat and boots and get to work. Have a coming to Jesus meeting behind closed doors where the media is excluded. The world doesn’t need to know that Ryan Ellis gets up into the face of the forwards and tells them to get back and help clear out the crease. The time for PR ended last week. As I’ve said on several occasions, some guys on this team may have this one and only shot.
So, I’m sorry, but you had that coming. I hope you learned your lesson. There are way too many doubters popping up almost as fast as the bandwagon filled up. I can’t say I blame them. I’m concerned too. But, and I’m going to bring it up again…Nashville will host NHL hockey in June! I only have my experience back in Dallas when the Stars won the Stanley Cup in 1999 and lost it to the New Jersey Devils the following year. Everyone can agree that winning is better than losing. But if the hockey gods see it fit to allow the Penguins to repeat, then how could any true Predators fan hang their head? You lost to a team whose top-2 centers will be Hall of Famers while putting a team on the ice that was missing their top center, a top-2 winger and countless other injuries. Oh, that other team also happens to be the defending Stanley Cup champions. That counts for something.
But, close your eyes and imagine Bridgestone Arena. It’s filled to capacity with gold-clad fans, all cheering in unison (without the aid of an annoying air horn) and potentially breaking world records for indoor noise levels. Saturday, the Preds are victorious and they’re confident and they come back and do it again on Monday. Now, Pittsburgh is starting to have to field questions about the 2011 Boston Bruins, and is the team choking, or have they gotten too confident. Pittsburgh comes out and narrowly escapes Game 5 in double-OT to take a 3 games to 2 lead, but here they all come again. Back to Nashville for Game 6 on Sunday the 11th. It’s Nashville’s best game of the series and all of a sudden, that 2-0 lead that Pittsburgh had is erased and the Stanley Cup comes down to a Game 7. Again, the Pens are hearing constant reminders of the 2011 Bruins, who, just as the Preds may do, dropped the first two games of the Final on the road, they went on to win games 3, 4, 6, and then the game that every kid dreams of.
Don’t go anywhere yet. The Predators aren’t. Why would you?