The Nashville Predators remember it all. They remember the way it felt after losing 2-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final on their home ice. They remember the anguish of fighting as far as they could go, only to come up two wins short. They remember everything. And they’re determined to not let it happen again.
“It’s definitely a lot of motivation,” Predators captain Roman Josi said. “I think most guys you talked to throughout the summer, obviously there’s a huge disappointment, but after a couple of weeks everybody just wanted to get back to Nashville and get back going. Right from the beginning, we were a motivated team. We definitely do not want to be in a position again like we were last year.”
Behind the 53-18-11 record and a franchise-best 117 points that led to a Central Division title, a Western Conference regular season title and a Presidents’ Trophy, the Predators have always had their sights set on a job left undone.
With the experiences gained during the previous three seasons under coach Peter Laviolette, the 2017-18 version of the Predators had a maturity and a confidence to them right from the start. They made no secret about what their goal was for the season: The Predators wanted home-ice advantage for as many rounds as possible in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Through injuries, trades, franchise records and comeback victories, the Predators successfully navigated through the regular season and accomplished their task. They will have home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, which they hope will aid them in accomplishing their ultimate goal that was within their grasp last June.
“Everybody’s been laser-focused,” Laviolette said. “When we’ve gotten off track, it’s only been just off track for a day or two. I think with the leadership that’s in the room, they’ve done an excellent job of making sure that we go back to what it is that we were talking about and what we were looking at at the end of last year and the mission that we have this year. We got back on track really quick, and that’s a credit to them. Because ultimately a coach can go in and say anything, but the players are the ones who have to put their gear on and make sure the team is always moving in the right direction.”
But for as memorable as the regular season was, the real season for the Predators begins now.
Fairly or unfairly, this team will be remembered for what they do over the course of the next two months. Expectations, both outwardly and inwardly, are higher than they’ve ever been before. You can feel it in the air all around the city of Nashville. There’s a burning desire for a silver Cup that is palpable, starting in the Predators locker room and extending throughout the Middle Tennessee area.
However, it’s a long, arduous road to get there. The Predators know that firsthand, and they know their work truly begins now.
“It’s been fun to be part of this group,” Predators forward Mike Fisher said. “We’ve worked hard to get where we’re at, to get home-ice advantage, and that’s big. But we also know that we’re going to be facing a great opponent here in the first round. We’ve just got to prepare, get ready and not rest on anything that we’ve done but just build on that confidence of a great year.”
That pain of defeat is gone, but not forgotten. That emptiness still remains but is overshadowed by opportunity. That feeling of what could have been is replaced by what now could be.
The Predators have unfinished business. And that business begins on Thursday night in Game 1 of Round 1 against the Colorado Avalanche.