The Nashville Predators might have been the last team in the Western Conference this post-season. Now they are the NHL’s first team to reach a conference final, and the Predators believe they are only halfway through.
“The expectation is the Stanley Cup,” Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban said. “I think we took a big step [on Sunday], and obviously for this organization and this city, but that’s not our ultimate goal. Our ultimate goal is to win a Stanley Cup. We worked really hard to put ourselves in a good position. There’s still a lot of hockey left to be played.”
The eighth-seeded team in the West, the Predators followed up a stunning sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks by ousting the St Louis Blues in six games with a 3-1 victory.
It is their first trip to the conference finals after falling short in the second round in their first three attempts, including a year ago to San Jose after pushing the Sharks to seven games.
“Right now, it means everything,” Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne said. “We haven’t gotten further than this before. Obviously, it’s a great feeling. There’s a lot of work left. After this second round, there are only four teams left. We all know that we have what it takes and everything is in our hands. It’s a good feeling. This is why you play this game. Right now, I’m pretty happy.”
The Predators, who were founded in 1998, now are the NHL’s only undefeated team at home this post-season with a nine-game winning streak dating to last season.
“It’s obviously a tough building,” Blues goalie Jake Allen said. “So whoever they play next is going to have their hands full.”
The Predators also are a league-best 8-2 with Rinne posting a 1.37 goals-against average and a 0.951 save percentage.
He helped Nashville give up only one goal per game on home ice to St Louis in the series. Rinne even posted his third assist of the post-season on Calle Jarnkrok’s empty-netter with a minute left that clinched the series against St Louis.
“Pekks was unbelievable again,” defenseman Roman Josi said. “Probably every game, he was our best player and he was our best player again.”
Paul Stastny gave St Louis a 1-0 lead scoring just 2 minutes, 4 seconds into the game. They would not score again as Rinne finished with 23 saves.
The teams were tied at 1-1 after 40 minutes thanks to Josi scoring 35 seconds into the second period. That was the ninth goal by a Nashville defenseman this post-season, a franchise record.
Ryan Johansen, who had an assist on Josi’s goal, scored the game-winner on a two-on-one after skating up the slot and beating Allen with a backhander off a pass from Viktor Arvidsson at 3:15 of the third.
After Johansen’s goal, a sold-out crowd took every chance to stand up and stayed there for the final minutes to celebrate franchise history.
“You take a look into the crowd, everyone’s on their feet for the entire game and the atmosphere that the fans bring for us is unbelievable,” defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “Standing ovations at every whistle almost. It was an exciting game, an exciting series, and now we’re on to the next one.”
That will be either the Anaheim Ducks or the Edmonton Oilers.
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