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Dream season continues for Predators

Nashville hopes party isn't over after advancing to Cup Final with win vs. Ducks in Game 6

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

NASHVILLE -- Music City is about its sounds, from the live country songs playing in the honkytonks on Broadway, to the lively hockey crowds roaring inside Bridgestone Arena.

Well, Monday night, Music City heard a sound it never had before.

With a 6-3 victory against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final, the Nashville Predators clinched their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.

 

[RELATED: Complete Predators vs. Ducks series coveragePredators don't forget about Ryan Johansen's contributions after Game 6]

 

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly presented the Clarence Campbell Bowl to captain Mike Fisher, in a suit because he was injured. Fisher didn't touch the trophy as they posed for a photo. Then his teammates flanked it, arm in arm, wearing "CONFERENCE CHAMPS" caps.

"We want the Cup!" the fans chanted.

The sound grew louder.

"WE WANT THE CUP!" the fans chanted. "WE WANT THE CUP!"

The sound subsided only when center Ryan Johansen joined his teammates, hobbling out on crutches with a huge black brace around his left leg.

Video: ANA@NSH, Gm6: Predators awarded Campbell Bowl

"I think that's what everybody's thinking," defenseman Roman Josi said. "You're obviously happy about the Western Conference championship, but yeah, now we're playing for the Cup, the Stanley Cup. There's not one guy in this room that doesn't want it."

Nashville will play the Ottawa Senators or Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 on Monday, May 29, and it's surreal. When general manager David Poile did a TV interview outside the locker room, the reporter called the Predators the Western Conference champions.

"Say that again, please," Poile said with a smile.

It sounded so sweet.

Twenty years Poile has been working toward this. The NHL awarded Nashville an expansion franchise in 1997, and Poile became their first GM. He did everything from pick the carpet to pick the players. He stuck with it through hard times and relocation rumors and even a flood, believing in his vision of Nashville as a hockey town and the Predators as Cup contenders.

The Predators took six seasons to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs and 12 seasons to win a round. Now, finally, in their 18th season, thanks to drafting and developing and bold trades that brought the likes of Johansen and defenseman P.K. Subban, they have broken through to the conference final and the Final.

Video: ANA@NSH, Gm6: Sissons completes hat trick for lead

"It's a dream come true," said goaltender Pekka Rinne, who was picked by the Predators in the eighth round (No. 258) in the 2004 NHL Draft, spent three seasons with Milwaukee of the American Hockey League and has spent nine with Nashville. "But it's a funny thing, though. When this is happening around us, you still feel hungry, and now we have a chance to play for the Cup. It's a pretty amazing feeling. And you've been working for that for a long, long time."

This team ranked 16th in the NHL in the regular season. But that was deceiving. The Predators were a popular preseason pick to make the Final. They needed time to adjust after trading captain Shea Weber for Subban in the offseason and had to deal with injuries, and they were one of the best teams in the League in the second half.

They swept the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, defeated the St. Louis Blues in six games in the second round, and used everything they had to defeat the Ducks: skill, speed, goaltending, grit, depth and determination. Though they lost Fisher to an undisclosed injury in the third period of Game 4 and Johansen afterward, they didn't blink with the series tied 2-2. They won 3-1 at Anaheim in Game 5, setting the scene for Game 6.

Video: ANA@NSH, Gm6: Rinne on Preds' first trip to Cup Final

Garth Brooks was in the building. Trisha Yearwood sang the anthem. Former Tennessee Titans star Eddie George waved a gold towel to fire up the fans. So did Johansen and forward Kevin Fiala, who sustained a broken femur in Game 1 of the second round. The Predators scored on two of their first three shots and took a 2-0 lead.

This was Nashville's night, right?

Of course, it wasn't that easy. It wasn't easy for 20 years. Why would it be easy now? The Predators blew the 2-0 lead, then a 3-1 lead. Josi shot a puck over the glass and took a penalty for delay of game with 8:03 to go. Uh-oh. They were being outplayed badly in a game in which they would be outshot 41-18.

"They had probably some momentum at that time, but we didn't stop believing," Subban said. "We knew it was going to take a bounce, and I just had a feeling it wasn't going to go overtime. I felt that it was going to end in regulation, and we got a fortuitous bounce."

They killed the penalty. Soon afterward, Sissons tried to make a move on Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler and lost the puck. It bounced to teammate Calle Jarnkrok. Sissons went left as Jarnkrok went right, then Jarnkrok sent the puck across the slot. Sissons one-timed it high into the net to make it 4-3 with six minutes to go. Hat trick.

Video: ANA@NSH, Gm6: Sissons on hat trick, Game 6 win

"It's unbelievable," Poile said. "Ryan Johansen goes out, and so Colton Sissons goes to the first center, and not only goes to the first center but we win two games and he scores three goals. I mean, if that's the script, you couldn't write it any better."

Forward Filip Forsberg flipped the puck down the ice and scored into an empty net with 2:22 to go. Forward Austin Watson scored into an empty net with 1:34 to go. The sound rose and rose.

"At three [goals] it was really tense," Poile said. "At four it was better. At five it was getting really good. And six, it was great."

The horn blew, and it was bedlam, inside Bridgestone Arena, out onto Broadway, into those honkytonks of this hockey town that ain't heard nothin' yet.

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