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Predators survive off-ice soap opera, reach 4th straight playoffs @NHLdotcom

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -No team in the NHL had to endure a season like the Nashville Predators had.

Their owner announced he was selling to a Canadian billionaire a month after last season ended. Then that sale was off. Relocation to Canada or Kansas City were possibilities. A fire sale followed that stripped some of the best talent off the roster, and the payroll.

Finally, a group of local investors came to the rescue and bought the team.

Now a franchise that had to fight to stay in the city where it was born has scratched its way into the playoffs for a fourth straight season. What better preparation for the pressure and intensity of the postseason?

"I know it's not going to hurt us," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said Monday.

"I do know it's going to help. It's one of those things. We've gone through a lot of stuff. Things are going to happen in the playoffs. Circumstances will change, and it's how you react to those circumstances. I think we're more prepared for that in those situations that might come up. We didn't get too rattled too many times this year."

A big assist goes to Trotz himself in what may be his best coaching job in his 10 seasons and to David Poile, president of hockey operations.

Trotz helped the players focus on hockey, while Poile did his best to fill the holes after the series of moves he was forced into last summer.

Poile had to trade away goaltender Tomas Vokoun along with captain and defenseman Kimmo Timomen and forward Scott Hartnell. He couldn't spend the money needed to keep top scorer Paul Kariya, and Peter Forsberg chose Colorado over Nashville when he came back to the NHL.

And yes, the players left noticed.

"All year we've been up and down," forward Scott Nichol said. "Geez, from about June first when they were going to try and sell the team, we didn't know if we were going to be here. It's been a very emotional year, the ride on the way in the last two, three months to just get in the playoffs."

Nashville lost Martin Gelinas and Jed Ortmayer to season-ending injuries. Top offensive threat Steve Sullivan hasn't come close to playing this season because of back problems. Poile helped fill the holes by trading for left wing Jan Hlavac from Tampa Bay and grabbing right wing Brandon Bochenski from Anaheim before the trade deadline.

The Predators struggled through a handful of losing skids, including a six-game stretch at home.

But captain Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont filled the scoring gap, leading the team with 72 points apiece. Chris Mason struggled in goal, but Dan Ellis goes into the playoffs leading the NHL with a .924 save percentage and has won 23 games for Nashville.

Fans helped sell out seven of the last 11 home games in Nashville, and the Predators still are talking about the long standing ovation they were given during their regular-season finale at home last week.

"You start talking on the bench, and you can't hear yourself," defenseman Greg Zanon said.

So the Predators aren't starting with home-ice advantage for the third straight playoffs. That didn't help as they lost to San Jose in five games in each of the past two years.

The Predators went 5-0-1 to clinch the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference before ending the regular season with a 3-1 loss in Chicago on Friday night. A franchise that has won only four playoff games combined in its last three postseason appearances will open the best-of-seven quarterfinals against Detroit on Thursday night.

"It may sound kind of cheesy, but we all do really care for each other," Nichol said. "We've been through a lot this year. But that's it. We've made it. That's what we wanted. We have one out of 16 chances to play for the Stanley Cup. ... There's always a Cinderella, feel-good story of the year. Why not us?"

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