Expectations are good. Pressure is wonderful.
Those two words — expectations and pressure — would not have applied to the first fifteen years of Nashville Predators Hockey. They are also words that make the Stanley Cup Playoffs a spectacular event.
In April of 2004, people descended upon Nashville from all over the state (I know because I was one of them), to experience what Stanley Cup playoff hockey was all about. It was the sixth season of Predators hockey and Nashville had just made the playoffs.
Despite being outshot 42-21 by the mighty Detroit Red Wings — who would go on to win the series in six games — Nashville got its first taste of victory in the chase for Lord Stanley’s Cup. It was a fresh new sensation in a city known for sensory overload.
Over the next 13 seasons, the Nashville Predators would shed a few colors, tweak the logo, watch its rink get renamed a few times, survive an ownership change and relocation scare.
Through it all, the Preds have continued to put a competitive team on the ice. Including this campaign, Nashville has made the playoffs in 10 of the last 13 seasons. Just ask an Original Six franchise like Toronto what 10 trips to the postseason feels like. Or reemerging Canadian powerhouse Edmonton.
But over that time, something special happened to the Tennessee State Capitol: It became a hockey town.
It morphed, grew up and has blossomed into Smashville.
Last season, in the franchise’s 17th season, Nashville went further than it ever had before. The Predators topped Pacific Division champion Anaheim and took eventual Western Conference champion San Jose to within one game of the conference finals.
So, what comes next for this emerging franchise? Pressure and expectations.
Players, fans, coaches, administrators and media all agree that pressure and expectations are not only a good thing but the goal in the first place.
Just playing the game was fun for the first five years. Getting into the playoffs and winning a game or two came next. Then, in the Preds’ sixth trip to the playoffs in 2011, a series win was something to celebrate.
However, after winning at least one series in three of its last four trips to the postseason (with the franchise’s only coaching change mixed in for good measure), Nashville now has the pressure and expectations of a legitimate contender.
That means at least its first trip to the Western Conference Finals.
Smashville has grown up and with that maturity comes responsibility. That means pressure and expectations.
The 2016-17 Predators didn’t live up to the lofty preseason expectations during the regular season, but that can all be washed away if it can handle the pressure of the postseason this spring. The exciting news for Preds fans? This team has the talent to do it.
It’s okay to feel the pressure and have expectations. It’s what being a hockey town is all about.