It’s May 29 and the Nashville Predators are still playing hockey.
“Usually this time of the year, I’m back home in Finland,” goaltender Pekka Rinne said. “Either after the season or after the World Championships or something.”
For the first time in their 19-year history, the Preds are in the Stanley Cup Final. This is uncharted territory for the franchise, the fanbase and for most of the players. The entire Nashville roster has a grand total of five games played in the Final (all by Mike Fisher) and, as a result, this stage is all new to them.
“I’m very excited, that’s for sure,” Rinne said. “Every morning when you get up, you can’t wait to get started.”
When the teams report to PPG Paints Arena on Monday, they’ll walk into their locker rooms to find their jerseys hanging in their stalls like normal but with one small difference. They’ll don a Stanley Cup Final patch on the right shoulder.
“We’re trying to keep our focus as much as we can,” Colton Sissons said. “But it’s cool to see all those little details shaping up.”
Another one of those little details is the ice surface. The Stanley Cup Playoff logos at the bluelines have been altered to Stanley Cup Final logos. And yet another is a Final decal that has been applied to the back of each player’s helmet.
“It just feels like another game and another series we have to win,” Ryan Ellis said. “Obviously, it’s a special time but, being in the moment, it doesn’t seem that way. Either way, it’s another hockey game we’ve got to win.”
He’s not wrong. If the Predators think any differently, they could very well find themselves with no more games to play and no silver chalice to show for it. The last thing they want to do is come all this way only to come up short.
This is a journey that started a while ago. Not just in mid-April like most would guess.
“This team started out in  going up against Chicago and having that tough loss,” James Neal said. “But then we went back the following year and beat Anaheim before losing to San Jose. It’s been something that we’ve built here. It’s been a lot of work leading up to this and it’s a special feeling going into the Stanley Cup Final.”
Despite the intense pressure of playing in late May and into June, practices have been loose.
“We’re just doing our same ol’ thing out here,” Sissons said. “We’re not going to change anything. We always have fun and we always compete. We practice loose and we practice hard and that’s not going to change.”
And why should it? They’ve obviously been successful with that mentality. Not only are the Preds one of the final two teams still alive but they’re 12-4 in these playoffs and have never trailed in any series.
In other words, they should keep on keepin’ on.
“You’re still going in and doing the same things on game day,” Ellis said. “Everyone’s got the same routine so you’ve got to treat it somewhat like another game.”
Like another game. Except it isn’t.