When the team first came to Nashville, it was fair to question whether Nashville would really support a hockey team. After all, in the biggest hockey markets, children can play hockey outdoors in the winter, and in Nashville, that’s not always possible.
And at the time the team came to the city in 1998, Nashville didn’t have an extensive history with any professional sport.
It didn’t take the city long to warm up to professional hockey, and fans have had a chip on their shoulders. For years, Nashville home games have been loud, fun events. During this year’s playoffs, that has been on display for the rest of the world.
Before Nashville won its first playoff series in 2011, it seemed like they just couldn’t get past the hump. They put up good fights in their first few tastes of postseason play, pushing really good hockey teams to their limits, but they couldn’t find a way to win.
Up until this season, that burden shifted to the second round. Last year, they took the San Jose Sharks to seven games, marking the furthest the Predators had been in team history.
This year, the team has received contributions across the board. Goaltender Pekka Rinne has had some phenomenal saves. P.K. Subban had a breakout performance in Game 1 against St. Louis. The second, third and even fourth lines have had their moments.
Even after Kevin Fiala went down with a gruesome injury early in the second round, Nashville’s depth remained strong.
Now, they’re in the Western Conference Finals, and they’re no longer the little guy.
During the first two rounds of the playoffs, during Nashville’s nationally televised home games, broadcasters noted that Bridgestone Arena was among the loudest hockey venues. Any question about the city’s passion for hockey has been squashed.
Also, some odds makers and experts are pinning the Predators as favorites moving forward in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With the way the team has played thus far, it’s certainly warranted.
How will the team respond to the changing expectations? Thus far, the players and head coach Peter Laviolette have been quoted in local and national media saying all of the right things.
The ultimate goal is the Stanley Cup, and it doesn’t matter what anyone outside the team thinks. They’re going to take things one game at a time. Those sorts of things.
It’s a big jump from “they’re just happy to be there,” to “they believe they can win – and if things break just right – they might really have a chance.”
I can’t wait to see how things unfold.
Jake Old is a staff writer for The Democrat. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @wilsonnewsroom.