Expectations for the Nashville Predators have been growing for some time.
They were one win away from reaching the Western Conference Final a year ago and then pulled off a highly polarizing, controversial trade in the summer, acquiring P.K. Subban from Montreal in exchange for Shea Weber.
It’s a deal that rocked the hockey world at the time and is still being discussed with plenty of fervor almost 11 months later, mainly because Subban and the Predators are still in the playoffs, and Weber and the Habs are not.
General manager David Poile has made some bold moves — beyond last year’s blockbuster involving Subban and Weber, two right-shooting star defensemen. He acquired Ryan Johansen from Columbus but had to move a promising young blue liner in Seth Jones to make it happen.
He has locked Filip Forsberg, once a young prospect the Predators acquired in a steal of a trade from Washington four years ago and now a significant scoring threat in Nashville, to a long-term contract, and has built a strong nucleus of good young players on the roster.
Losing in the second round was, a year ago, considered moving in the right direction for Poile and the Predators.
They took another step Sunday, advancing to the Western Conference Final for the first time in franchise history, moving past the Blues in six games. That followed a clean sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks, the No. 1 seed in the conference going into the playoffs.
“I think we took a big step today for this organization and this city, but that’s not our ultimate goal. Our ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup,” Subban told The Tennessean.
“We’ve worked really hard to put ourselves in a good position. There’s still a lot of hockey left to be played, but we should enjoy this today. It’s a hell of an accomplishment for this organization.”
It’s not like the Predators stormed out of the gate in October, but despite any regular season struggles encountered along the way, they have really found their stride, especially through two rounds of the playoffs.
There are many different reasons for the Predators’ surge this post-season. For starters, Pekka Rinne continues to provide stellar goaltending. In 10 games, he has a ridiculous save percentage of .951 and has only twice allowed more than two goals in a single game. Of the teams remaining in the playoffs, Nashville has the second best penalty kill behind New York, and the fourth best power play.
Their leading goal scorers, at least right now, are both defensemen. Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi share the team lead in goals with four (Ellis has nine points and Josi has eight). In fact, production from their blue line has been key and that continued in this series.
Ellis, Josi and Subban have 24 points between the three of them in the playoffs. Josi factored into the goal scoring Sunday, before the trio of Forsberg, Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson got involved by teaming up for the eventual winner early in the third period.
“Right now it means everything,” Rinne told NHL.com. “We haven’t gone further than this before. Obviously it’s a great feeling, but there’s a lot of work left.”