For the first time ever, the Nashville Predators are heading to the Stanley Cup Final. A few weeks ago, Nashville was essentially the No. 16 seed in the NHL playoffs, and many suggested they would be swept in the first round. The Predators swept the No. 1 seed Blackhawks, shutting them out twice. They went on to defeat the St. Louis Blues in the second round four games to two. This brings us to Nashville’s first ever Western conference finals appearance against the Anaheim Ducks.
After losing star center Ryan Johansen to emergency surgery after Game 4, the Predators were staring up at the Ducks. They had just lost at home to tie the series, a loss especially devastating after the Predators had rallied from down 2-0 in the third to send the game to overtime.
Going on the road at Anaheim, down Johansen, Mike Fisher and Kevin Fiala, it seemed like the series may be over. Despite that, the Predators rallied on the road, brought the series back home, and closed it out with a smashing 6-3 win.
These Nashville Predators symbolize everything that is good about sports. For starters, they are the classic underdog story. No one expected this team to make it out of the first round. Some “experts” didn’t expect them to win a single game.
After sneaking into the playoffs, and even after sweeping the No. 1 seed, some people still doubted. The Predators would certainly lose in the next round. Wrong again. The Predators proved that they’re no fluke, shutting down the Blues. It had to end against Anaheim, right? Wrong again.
The Predators have been able to go on this magical run without the benefit of many of their star players. Kevin Fiala suffered a broken femur in Game 1 of the series against the Blues, and he remains out for the playoffs. Team captain Mike Fisher left Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals and has yet to return to the ice. Ryan Johansen is out for the remainder of the playoffs after his emergency thigh surgery. And yet, the Predators keep winning.
The ability of role players to step up and perform in a big spot has really emphasized the depth of this team. It seems like this has almost made the team play better, as now they must perform as one cohesive unit.
The 3 stars of the Nashville game that clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup Final: Aberg-Watson-Sissons. Seriously.
— Travis Haney (@travhaney) May 23, 2017
You can tell that this team is really a brotherhood. No other time was this more apparent than after Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals when the team insisted upon waiting for Ryan Johansen to crutch onto the ice to take a picture with the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, also known as the Western Conference championship trophy.
Ryan Johansen joins his teammates out on the ice pic.twitter.com/xOM8OEpr8a
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) May 23, 2017
The Nashville Predators fanbase is one of the most loyal in the game, as evidenced by their continuous sellouts of Bridgestone Arena. However, with this deep playoff run, the fanbase has only grown larger. While many claim that people are simply jumping on the Predators bandwagon, it appears (from the inside) to be something much different.
People from all over Tennessee are rallying together around the Predators. People ranging from those who have never seen a hockey game to the die-hard fans knows what’s going on in Nashville. In addition, people are finally talking about the Predators.
Since there are so many first-time hockey fans, it is easy to claim bandwagon status. However, this is approaching a cultural phenomenon status. I personally haven’t seen people in Knoxville this invested in a non-Tennessee Volunteer sporting event since the World Cup in 2014. As a result of that World Cup fever, I began watching soccer.
It seems like that could be happening again in Tennessee, only with hockey. People are beginning to take the Nashville Predators seriously. Across the nation, people are seeing for the first time that Nashville is a hockey town.
If you need any proof, watch this video from OUTSIDE Bridgestone Arena:
The 1st empty netter in #PredsPark pic.twitter.com/V8UCrFFkve
— David Reed (@DavidReedRADIO) May 23, 2017
The Nashville Predators symbolize everything that we love about sports.
And they’re not done yet.