Predators advance to Western Conference Final for first time in franchise history

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They swept the Blackhawks.

They handled the Blues in six games.

The Nashville Predators are now off to the Western Conference Final for the first time in franchise history.

A year ago, they were one victory away from that same feat, only to lose in Game 7 of the second round. Not this time. On Sunday, the Predators shook off a slow start in the first period for a 3-1 victory in Game 6 against the Blues in front of the home crowd in Nashville.

It’s been quite a journey to this point.

The Predators entered this post-season as the second wild card team in the West. It wasn’t enough to upset the Blackhawks in the first round. They dispatched the No. 1 seed in the West in four games and made it look relatively easy, too, almost completely shutting down Chicago’s offense. The sensational play of Pekka Rinne in net was a major reason why.

The Predators’ production from the blue line has been a major reason for their success in the second round. On the other hand, forwards Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg had been having a difficult time producing in this series, with only three points between all of them in five games.

Talk about a perfect time to bust that collective slump.

Johansen had an assist on Roman Josi‘s second period goal — more scoring from the Nashville blue line? Get out! — and then scored the eventual winner early in the third period. Beautiful goal, too, as Johansen made a move to the backhand to beat Jake Allen after the Arvidsson pass into the middle caught Nashville’s center streaking toward the net at full speed.

Of course, Nashville could’ve increased its lead, too. The Predators had two breakaways and a two-on-one after taking the lead but couldn’t convert. They also had a look at the open net but Arvidsson’s attempt (from inside the blue line) was blocked, providing an anxious few seconds for the locals.

Rinne made 23 saves for the win and had an assist on the series-clinching empty net goal.

The Predators now await the winner of the Anaheim-Edmonton series. Game 6 goes tonight in Edmonton. The Ducks lead the series 3-2.