The Nashville Predators did everything they could to piece together a lineup that made sense on Sunday night. They gave it their all and they came up short
Considering that they had already lost Ryan Johansen and Kevin Fiala in previous playoff rounds, considering that they had a hobbled Ryan Ellis, gutting out 24 minutes with three blocks and two hits, and considering that they faced a Penguins team with one of the best players on the planet, this team truly gave it their all.
In the end, it wasn’t enough.
But more than that, in this playoff run, this team showed the league something it had never seen before.
I don’t know that there is a team in the playoffs that could have brought a more passionate, energetic, and novel energy to the NHL playoffs. The entire league and sports-reporting world was talking about the Nashville Predators. The world focused on Nashville and loved the way the city responded to its hockey team.
This playoff run featured some ridiculously entertaining moments. Here are a few of them.
Sweeping the Blackhawks
Unless you root for the Hawks, this was an entertaining few days. The top seeded Hawks were supposed to roll through the Predators, but instead, they got rolled, to the tune of only scoring three goals in four games.
April 21, 2017
Pekka Rinne’s two shutouts in the United Center were memorable, as was Kevin Fiala’s overtime winner in Game 3, but maybe the most memorable moment of the series was the crowd chanting “sweep!” during the final moments of Game 4.
Followed by sad Jonathan Toews.
Sad Toews is sad. pic.twitter.com/bNwMbgO3fQ— Brian (@alrightlight) April 18, 2017
Loads of Blackhawks haters jumped on the Preds bandwagon at that point. Not only did the Preds take down their division rival in an epic beatdown, but they took out what many felt was a Cup favorite.
It was an incredible start to an exciting playoff run for the Preds and I would imagine all of us will remember it fondly.
Anthem Guessing Game
No other team in sports has such fun with anthem singers. From Carrie Underwood to Luke Bryan to Keith Urban to Faith Hill, the Predators trotted out award winning anthem singers night after night.
The best part, though, was the guessing game. Who is it gonna be tonight? It started with Carrie—who was the hands-down best of all of them—but then from there it was anyone’s guess. There were a lot of options and maybe a few disappointments, but I doubt any other team could create a similar anthem vibe.
The fans loved it, the city loved, and eventually the league caught on and loved it too.
The Towel Wavers, featuring The Beer Guzzling Fat Men
This got out of control real quick.
It started innocently enough over the years, with local celebrities, former (and current) players, and, of course, country music stars, coming out after the anthem and waving a towel to hype up the crowd.
It reached a whole new level when the local football team got involved.
I’ll always remember how hilarious that was. The crowd loved it. It was so organic and fitting at the time, it gives me a giggle every time I see it.
Not to be outdone, the Predators trotted out recently injured Kevin Fiala before the Game 6 clincher against the Blues.
They won 3-1 to advance to the Western Conference Final.
Naturally, they brought Kevin out there with Ryan Johansen during Game 6 against the Ducks in the WCF, where the Preds won again, this time 6-3. It clearly works.
Some of the towel wavers were duds (I’m not sure Kings Of Leon knew where they were), but it was always interesting seeing who the Preds were going to send out there.
Ryan Kesler Hate Club
Everyone knew the WCF was going to be a dog fight. When you pit guys like James Neal and Mike Fisher up against guys like Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler, you are bound to have more than few post-whistle parties.
But the real feud of the series was between the Ryans.
After Game 2 of the series, Ryan Johansen talked about digging sticks out of his groin and how baffled he was that Kesler’s family would cheer for their boy Ryan. It was a fantastic quote from an otherwise cheery Johansen.
“I don’t know how you cheer for a guy like that.”
Because basically the entire league hates Kesler, this was almost universally lauded among NHL fans. Joey is right! Who in their mind would want to cheer for this guy? He is the Grand Master of the Goon Squad and somehow finds a way into the playoffs every year despite being a miserable hockey player.
It led to some fun moments, like this one:
Ryan Johansen: "You're a fuckin' loser. Nobody likes you."— Cristiano Simonetta (@CMS_74_) May 20, 2017
Ryan Kesler: "Yeah, good one."
Playoff hockey at its finest. (H/T @MsJenNeale) pic.twitter.com/qOH24C4SgC
Also, there was significant Corey Perry hate, which was delightful:
Who wore it better? pic.twitter.com/iJ2GHo3Uzy— Dan D Bradley (@DanDBradley) May 24, 2017
By dispatching of the Ducks in six games, and making Kesler and company look like fools in the process, the Preds gained the attention of more fanbases, including the Oilers, Kings, and Sharks.
And the bandwagon grew.
Next Man Up
Perhaps my personal favorite moment of this playoff run was the involvement of players who prior to this season were virtually unheard of even among many Predators fans.
Frederick Gaudreau. Pontus Aberg. Colton Sissons. Harry Zolnierczyk.
All of these guys had moments of greatness and some well deserved time in the spotlight. Colton Sissons with the hat-trick to send the team to the Cup Final. Aberg with that incredible goal in Game 2. Harry Z snapping one by Crawford way back in the first round.
And how could we forget Freddy Hockey and his nomad locker spot?
Frederick Gaudreau:— Cole Padawer (@HKY_Tweets) June 6, 2017
- 3 goals in the Cup Final
- doesn't even have his own locker
- nice IKEA chair pic.twitter.com/zFAeCTi362
Gaudreau was definitely the biggest surprise, especially given the scenario. An emergency play after the Johansen injury, he was only supposed to be a body on the bottom six. He just needed to hold it together and let others around him try to succeed.
Instead, he was the one doing a lot of the work. Averaging over 11 minutes per game, he scored three goals, including two game winners, in eight playoff games. He manned the 3rd and 4th lines and took on some tough battles against guys like Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, Matt Cullen, and Chris Kunitz.
This is very promising for the future of this team. With these guys getting Cup Final experience, you like the idea of what they can bring to the team in the future.
Catfish, Catfish, and More Catfish
Say what you will about Nashville’s most publicized and pseudo-original hockey tradition, the catfish game was on point this postseason.
In addition to throwing an awful lot of them out on the ice (and at away games!), Preds fans got pretty creative, dressing them up in all sorts of outfits.
The catfish is ready for its closeup.— SB Nation (@SBNation) June 6, 2017
( Frederick Breedon/Getty) pic.twitter.com/58LINv30Zo
WE'VE GOT A CATFISH ON THE ICE #StanleyCup pic.twitter.com/eeUeSWuPHY— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) June 9, 2017
When this tradition started ages ago, I never imagined it would get this big. It sort of became a beast on its own, and it probably jumped the shark a bit. But it was still enjoyable. And it for some reason really annoyed Pittsburgh fans, who probably realized that they have no tradition of their own to hoist as unique and memorable.
They win Cups, sure, but does anyone outside of their rapidly shrinking city care? Nah.
Speaking of cities...
The city of Nashville fell in love with this team. And it was awesome.
Not a bad little venue for @LukeBryanOnline. #StanleyCup pic.twitter.com/1BgmWsQk9J— NHL (@NHL) June 12, 2017
Aerial view of Broadway outside of Bridgestone Arena pic.twitter.com/atxRdyZunJ— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) June 11, 2017
Nashville is ready. #StanleyCup pic.twitter.com/oLRgQ2vWEK— NHL (@NHL) June 11, 2017
"It's Monday night but the party continues." - @liam_mchugh on @NBCSN.— Nashville Tennessee (@visitmusiccity) June 6, 2017
The party never stops in Nashville! #StandWithUs #StanleyCup pic.twitter.com/7yBf9H6sqG
NASHVILLE IS BANANAS RIGHT NOW! #StanleyCup pic.twitter.com/HIctdIa29O— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) June 3, 2017
WELCOME TO SMASHVILLE! #StanleyCup pic.twitter.com/YO7cRbVJ4A— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) June 11, 2017
Are we sure the game isn't here? pic.twitter.com/MdSrkynOax— On The Forecheck (@OnTheForecheck) June 9, 2017
Wow SMASHVILLE!!!— PREDSident (@PREDSident) June 4, 2017
Thank you! pic.twitter.com/NCKrB4rOgY
Nothing about this season, save for the ending, was a disappointment. It was rewarding to watch the team we love advance so far in the playoffs and receive so much deserved attention. There is much to look forward to next year.
The expansion draft starts in six days. The entry draft just after that. And then free agency.
October will be here before you know it.