Nashville Predators are still chasing glory of 2017, and these playoffs remind us why | Estes
Sean Henry still has the emails from 2017.
They’re a lot like the emails the Nashville Predators’ president and CEO received earlier this season. The ones that were calling for everyone to be fired and players to be traded or cut, typically with a colorful array of “not very kind words,” Henry said with a laugh.
So no, this hockey season hasn’t been the most enjoyable for Henry, as seasons go.
But neither was 2017.
Prior to their indelible run to the Stanley Cup Final, those Predators barely even got in the playoffs. Hardly anyone expected them to get past the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the opening round. Prior to that series, in fact, Nashville’s expectations were so measured that the Predators were having to work hard just to sell out Bridgestone Arena’s first two playoff games.
“Now when people look back on that year,” Henry said, “they talk about the greatest year ever, the most fun year ever. They just go on and on and romanticized it so much.” And yet, that Predators fan who was seething in disappointment just a few months ago “was the same guy that did it in 2017 but at the end of the year was hugging everyone,” Henry added.
“That, to me, is somewhat of a similarity to this year.”
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You have to admit it. There are similarities. Those looking for reasons to expect the unexpected again from the playoff Predators can note that the setup in 2017 does resemble the 2021 team’s improbably heroic run of form these past two months.
Whatever mystical forces continued to line up in those 2017 playoffs – the magic and mojo and momentum and catfish – the Predators will need all of them again in 2021.
As of Wednesday, BetMGM had the Predators at 35-to-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup. That tied them with the Winnipeg Jets as the longest of the long shots in the 16-team bracket, given about a 2.8% chance. The Predators’ opening-round opponent, the Central Division’s No. 1 seed Carolina Hurricanes, was listed at close to 7-to-1.
Oddsmakers aren’t putting any stock in the final two games of the regular season at Bridgestone, and they shouldn't.
Just like at the past week for the Hurricanes. After dominating the Predators all season, they ended up playing an unwilling role in two magnificent nights at Bridgestone. They barely lost to let the Predators celebrate clinching a playoff spot Saturday, and then Monday’s shutout loss – with players resting – made for Pekka Rinne’s emotional, presumed sendoff.
The Hurricanes had to endure all this, and they’ve since gotten to chew on it for a while.
Best believe they’ll be in Category 5 temper when the playoff series finally begins.
That said, the odds don’t mean as much in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Hockey is different from most professional sports – baseball might be the closest, and even its randomness pales in comparison – in how unpredictable its postseason is each year. Every team legitimately can feel it has a chance.
Because it’s not as much which team is better as which team happens to be playing best at that time.
So why not these Predators? They’ve got a hot goaltender in Juuse Saros. They’ve been dealing with playoff-level pressure for weeks now. They’ve been playing their best for the past two months just to overcome their own awful start to the season and manage to squeeze into the postseason.
Again, kind of like in 2017.
Years later, that memory continues to both delight and taunt the Predators. It created new expectations by showing what might be possible, and yet it was ultimately unsatisfying. The Predators didn’t win the Stanley Cup. They got just close enough to taste it. Thus the bar was raised for subsequent teams, whether their talent level justified that or not – and I’m not sure it ever did.
The Predators weren’t that good for much of 2017. And yet, they are still chasing 2017, despite the fact that 2017 was an exception.
After Saturday night’s victory clinched a playoff spot, the NHL put out this fact: Since their first playoff berth in 2004, the Predators have made the postseason 14 times. Only one NHL team – the Pittsburgh Penguins (15) – had done that more often.
Yet during that same timeframe, the Penguins have won the Cup three more times than the Predators’ zero. That's why the Predators, despite all those playoffs appearances, aren't generally viewed as a member of the NHL’s upper crust. They haven’t won the big prize. Their playoff frustration has been routine, even after producing better regular seasons than in 2017.
Doesn’t matter. All that counts is what happens now – in the playoffs.
The Predators know that as well as any franchise. All they’ve earned this season is another opportunity to recapture what made 2017 so special – and then eclipse it.
Reach Gentry Estes at email@example.com and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.