Nashville Preda­tors set to start de­fense of NHL’s West­ern Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship

Walker County Messenger - - Sports - By Larry Lage

The Nashville Preda­tors are proof any­thing is pos­si­ble in the NHL play­offs. His­tory sug­gests they are up against quite a chal­lenge.

Nashville made it into the last post­sea­son as the eighth-seeded team in the West­ern Con­fer­ence and ended up be­com­ing just the third team seeded last to reach the Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal since 1994.

The Preda­tors couldn’t stop Pitts­burgh from re­peat­ing, and they’re about to find out how hard it is to de­fend a cham­pi­onship in their stacked con­fer­ence. The West­ern Con­fer­ence has not had a re­peat cham­pion since the Detroit Red Wings pulled off the feat in 2008 and 2009, host­ing a Stan­ley Cup and then los­ing a Game 7 against the Pen­guins.

Nashville’s ap­pear­ance in the play­offs, though, was not fluke. The fran­chise was in the post­sea­son for the third straight year and the 10th time in 13 sea­sons. And, the city should be pre­pared to have a good time again next spring, cat­fish and all.

“This year, our ex­pec­ta­tion is to be in the play­offs, but our ex­pec­ta­tion is also to give our­selves the best op­por­tu­nity to win hockey games and to play in our build­ing as much as we can be­cause our fans were so great, es­pe­cially through the run,” de­fense­man P. K. Sub­ban said. “It was a huge edge for us in the play­offs be­ing at home. We went most of the play­offs with­out los­ing at home. That’s what we’re go­ing to need. We’re go­ing to need our team to re­al­ize how im­por­tant it is for us to win at home.”

The Preda­tors seem set up for more suc­cess.

Mike Fisher re­tired and was ef­fec­tively re­placed on the ice by Pen­guins cen­ter Nick Bonino. Gen­eral man­ager David Poile has goal­tender Pekka Rinne un­der con­tract for two more sea­sons to go with top-line for­wards Vik­tor Arvids­son, Ryan Jo­hansen and Filip Fors­berg, along with de­fense­man Sub­ban for at least five years.

“We all know it was a lot of fun, and it was a tremen­dous ex­pe­ri­ence go­ing through all that,” Jo­hansen said. “At the end of the day like 29 other teams, we didn’t reach our goal.”

Here’s a look at some other things to watch in the West:

Log­jam ahead

The Colorado Avalanche, eas­ily the NHL’s worst team last sea­son, may be the only team in the Cen­tral Divi­sion with­out a le­git­i­mate shot to make the play­offs. The divi­sion was so tough last year that Nashville fin­ished a rel­a­tively dis­tant fourth be­hind Chicago, Min­nesota and St. Louis. Each of those teams fig­ures to be just as good this sea­son and will have to com­pete with Dal­las, which seemed to lead the league in ma­jor moves .

Don’t sleep on Win­nipeg, either. The Jets have made the play­offs only once in the last decade, but they could break through this sea­son. Mark Scheifele, a 24-year-old cen­ter, qui­etly ranked among league lead­ers with 82 points last sea­son. He leads a team with ris­ing stars Pa­trik Laine, a 19-year-old winger who was taken No. 2 be­hind Aus­ton Matthews, and 21-year-old Niko­laj Eh­lers.

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