Thank you Nashville Predators
By Greg Moshopoulos (@GreekGoalie35)
*Long, deep breath*
Well, it has taken me a couple days to process everything that’s happened over the last 8 months. By that of course I mean I’ve gotten every four letter word out of my system. On this, the day that game 7 was to be played, I give you my thoughts on… ok maybe I’m not ready yet… one sec.
Ok, let’s try again. The Nashville Predators are your 2017 Western Conference Champions. This may be considered old news by now but think about that accomplishment. This franchise has been around for 19 years and have yet to put up a banner in Bridgestone Arena that doesn’t read ’7th Man’. Come October, we’ll get all the feels when they finally hoist that in their season opener.
When the season began, the expectations for this team were the highest they’ve ever been. Many pundits took notice of the nucleus and came to the realization that Nashville could make some serious noise and compete for a Stanley Cup. What followed was a very mediocre regular season. The Preds couldn’t put together even 4 wins in a row until the end of February and were in ‘the swamp’ as coach Laviolette called it with a number of teams scratching just to make the playoffs. By the time April rolled around, they had cemented their spot in the postseason. That’s when the fun began.
After a frustrating and inconsistent 6 months of hockey, the Preds had to face the top team in the conference, and playoff stalwart Chicago. Up to that point, the team showed no killer instinct and no proof whatsoever that they can play well enough to compete with the Blackhawks. Then Pekka Rinne stole game 1 and the team followed his lead by pulverizing Chicago 5-0 in game 2. The unthinkable happened….all of our ears were saved from the blood-curdling noise that is Chelsea Dagger. But even then there was still doubt until a glorious 3rd period of game 3 led to an OT victory capped off by a beautiful goal from Kevin Fiala. For all intents and purposes, that was it. Bye bye Toews, Kane, Keith and the rest of them.
Nashville then had their first postseason matchup with division rival St. Louis. This series can be capsulated by simply stating that Vern Fiddler and Cody McLeod scored game-winning goals in 2 of the 4 victories for the Preds. Did I mention that NEITHER of them dressed in the entire first round and were healthy scratches? Many across town called it historic when they finally got over the 2nd round hump. Truth is, they were only half-way there and the team knew it. There was no history made by getting to a conference final. Looking back, one of my takeaways from this series is that I realize Blues fans are the most sane of any group whose team we faced this spring. Who saw THAT coming?
Then came the Ducks. A team known as much for its cheap shots and dirty tactics as they are for the talent they possess. At the forefront of this matchup was Ryan Johansen vs Ryan Kesler. Through 4 games, the teams were tied 2 apiece and Johansen had largely owned the duel. Then our worst nightmare occurred when it was revealed RyJo would miss the rest of the postseason. It was a crushing blow to the top line center who led the way with 13 points in 14 playoff games. All hope was lost as the team traveled to Anaheim without Johansen and captain Mike Fisher. Enter Freddie Gaudreau from Milwaukee. A guy who was hardly on anybody’s radar, proceeded to win 10 of 14 faceoffs and stood toe-to-toe with Kesler. Nashville found a way to win, and this time it was Pontus Aberg providing the heroics, doing his best Fisher in triple OT impression with a diving game-winner. The same lineup traveled home and we all witnessed one of the great performances in conference finals history as Colton Sissons tallied a hat trick to catapult the boys in gold to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance.
I really want to get into the details of the series with Pittsburgh, but that whole four-letter thing I mentioned earlier would creep in and frankly I still struggle finding words that are PG rated.
Like I said earlier, it took me a couple days, but I can finally look back and realize how proud I am of this team. I know it was infuriating watching a team so talented fail to find any traction for 6 months. But this just goes to show that you base the success of a season on how far you get in the playoffs. The regular season matters, but only to make sure you qualify to play for Lord Stanley’s Cup. How successful of a season do you think Chicago and Washington had? Aside from raising a regular season banner for a division crown, that time from October to the beginning of April means very little.
I am also proud of the city. I lived in middle Tennessee for 20 years and for 19 of them, I’ve been clamoring for people to get into hockey. I would always encourage people to go watch a game live because TV doesn’t do it justice. If you’re a novice, you miss things like line changes when you think they’re just standing around behind the net. You learn to appreciate the speed of the game and the fact these guys are the best conditioned athletes on earth, and yet can only go about 45 seconds before their legs get heavy. But I’m not just proud of the fact the team sold out every home game for the first time in franchise history, it’s how crazy the town went for the Predators. For years I heard media types in and around Nashville proclaim that hockey will never make it and the city would be better off having an NBA or MLB team. It’s almost a sense of validation and “I told you so” to the naysayers. The aerial images of Broadway for both home and away games alike will remain iconic for generations. It was truly remarkable to watch.
Lastly, the Predators provided us all with an incredible ride, but it meant just a little bit more to me this time around. Only those very close to me know that I have struggled mightily over the last few months. The love and support from my family and church mean more than I can put into words. But for 3 hours on game nights, this team gave me pure elation and joy during times when it was difficult to find that emotion. They provided me some time to forget the problems that life brings and an escape from reality that weighed me down physically and emotionally. It was a magnificent push towards the Cup. The team faced adversity and continued being resilient when nobody would’ve blamed them if they collapsed under the pressure. They made no excuses when it would’ve been easy to mail it in, throw their hands up and blame it on the injuries. They kept pushing and kept moving forward. They don’t have the name power of Toews, Kane, Getzlaf, Perry, Crosby or Malkin. They truly are a team and it was an inspiration to watch. So again….
Thank you Nashville Predators.