The Nashville Predators are confident they can win the Stanley Cup.
"We believe," center Ryan Johansen said.
But they can't afford to be overconfident, a lesson learned last season.
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After making the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, the Predators won the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's top regular-season team, setting a franchise record with 117 points. They defeated the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference First Round, then lost to the Winnipeg Jets in the second round.
The Jets finished second to the Predators in the NHL standings with 114 points, and that series went seven games. Still, it was little consolation.
"I thought we could have played better," Johansen told NHL.com at the 2018 Player Media Tour in Chicago last week. "That was kind of the thing that's frustrating. Probably speaking for everyone on our team, we had a little regret, it seemed like, and that's the main thing. You want to be able to hang your hat and say, 'I had no regrets, even though I lost.'"
Video: WPG@NSH, Gm5: Johansen nets SHG on two-on-one
Johansen wasn't saying the Predators regretted their effort. He was saying they regretted not playing up to their potential, and he had a theory for why they didn't.
There's a difference between believing you can win and believing you should.
"I'm not saying this would be an excuse or anything like that, but with us winning the Presidents' Trophy, maybe we had something in the back of our head where we were feeling like we were better than every other team," Johansen said. "And really, that's not the case, because it doesn't matter. Like, there's no meaning whatsoever for winning the Stanley Cup.
"You know, I wouldn't blame it on that, but that'd be something that we can learn from, and we can make sure we have a 100-percent clear understanding that didn't mean anything."
No one was more disappointed in himself than goalie Pekka Rinne.
Video: Pekka Rinne lands at No. 7 on the list
Three times before, he had been a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's best goaltender. This time, at age 35, he won it. He went 42-13-4 with a 2.31 goals-against average, a .927 save percentage and eight shutouts in the regular season.
But he went 7-6 with a 3.07 GAA, .904 save percentage and two shutouts in the playoffs. He gave up two goals on seven shots in 10:31 in Game 7 and was pulled with the Predators trailing 2-0. After they lost 5-1, he said he felt responsible for their season ending and let down his teammates.
"He's such a humble guy," Johansen said. "He'll say to the guys, 'I let you guys down. I'm sorry.' But it makes me as a teammate mad. Like, he's the last guy in the League who should ever be mad at himself or the way he played, because …"
"I say that not just to say it," he continued. "Like, he's the hardest-working, most loyal teammate ever."
Will the Predators rally around that? Rinne has spent his entire NHL career in Nashville, has never won the Cup, turns 36 on Nov. 3 and is in the last season of his contract.
"One hundred percent," Johansen said. "He's a huge reason why you lay it on the line. He's like [defenseman Roman Josi] on our team. He's like another captain. He's a tremendous leader, and I could compliment Pekks for days. He really is just the ultimate, ultimate guy, ultimate team guy, and that's why losing out and not playing as well in front of him as we could've was disappointing for last year."
Video: NSH@COL, Gm3: Johansen buries rebound for PPG
Bottom line: The Predators are at the stage where nothing less than winning the Stanley Cup is a success. The regular season is about making the playoffs first and foremost. After that, where they finish in the standings isn't as important as how they prepare for the playoffs. When they went to the Final, they finished eighth in the Western Conference.
"I think just throughout our whole lineup, we feel like we have the tools that can get it done," Johansen said. "We just need to make sure that as individuals and as a team that come playoff time again everyone is bringing their best. … Come playoff time, we need everyone on that page and doing their thing, and then hopefully we'll be successful. ...
"There's just been a sour taste in our mouths this offseason, and we're pretty anxious to get back out there and set ourselves up to be in playoffs again and prove that we can get it done."