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From a Nashville Native: Perspective on Preds Historic Season

Defeat in the Stanley Cup Final is Painful, But Loss of Hypothetical Future Can't Change Wonderful Past

by Thomas Willis @TomAWillis / Digital Manager & Producer

A loss like last night's takes so much away in a moment.

The Nashville Predators will not be Stanley Cup Champions in 2017. There I said it.

I'm making myself write this the day after the Preds fell in Game Six of the Stanley Cup Final to the Pittsburgh Penguins in part to help myself cope. I keep thinking back to two things Filip Forsberg and Pekka Rinne said last night that probably encapsulated how many of us felt in the moments after we watched the Penguins throw their gloves aloft and converge on goaltender Matt Murray - in our home rink of all places.

First, Rinne said you never even let yourself consider that it could all be over that night. Not just from a motivational attitude of "this isn't over, we're forcing a Game Seven," I just mean you've watched 58 minutes of hockey, and it seems so clear the Predators are going to win this game. And then, in an instant…

Secondly, Forsberg - while fighting back tears - tried to put into words the pain of watching someone only a few feet away from you accomplishing the very thing you've fought for your entire life. Let's not forget that hoisting the Cup is the endgame. Sure, Nashville's playoff run has been a grueling two-month journey, in which we saw players like Ryan Ellis, who had no business gutting out there for another game, on the ice shift after shift. I'm saying this is the ultimate goal that motivates many of the Preds to move across the world. A six-year-old Filip Forsberg sitting in his living room in Sweden watching the Colorado Avalanche (and Peter Forsberg) win the Stanley Cup - that happened. And from his backyard to an NHL workout room years later, that extra shot or rep was in pursuit of this one thing.

And now it's gone.

But here's the thing about loss: it takes away a hypothetical future, but all that happened before that moment, all of that incredible past preceding the pain, it can never go away.

Can I guess that you've already had a few of those moments? The ones where you think: "Wow, this really happened. To us. To our team. To our city." If you haven't, let me help you get there.

I'm not wearing it right now, but I could have one of Project 615's t-shirts that says "Nashville Native" and then it's just a picture of a unicorn. That shirt always makes me laugh.

What I'm saying is, I've already logged more than 25 years in the great state we call Tennessee, and more specifically, this indescribable, "little, big town" "diamond in the South" called Nashville, and I've never seen anything like the scene we've witnessed downtown the last couple weeks. Would not have even imagined it, honestly.

More than 50,000 people standing on Lower Broadway to watch a hockey game in June, are you kidding me? Then there's what went on inside Bridgestone Arena during the last two months to consider. Do not underestimate what you, the fans, have done primarily for the team, and secondly, the hockey world.

I was saying on a radio segment the other day, it took me longer than perhaps it should have to see the tangible difference the support inside Smashville can make. Yes, every player wants to feel the noise of their fans rallying behind them, but can that really make an impact? A bushel of standing ovations later in the 2017 playoffs, and even the national media are saying yes.

Video: CHI@NSH, Gm4: Josi wires a one-timer past Crawford

How about the two minutes of standing applause that led to Roman Josi scoring directly off a faceoff in Game Four as the Preds swept the Blackhawks? Or the two-goal rally in Game Three? Or as 102.5 The Game's Ryan Porth puts it: vocally willing the puck into the net in Game Four of the Western Conference Final to tie the game with 35 seconds left?

The impact of Predators fans was right there before our eyes during four rounds of playoff hockey, and time after time it made a difference. Let me also say as someone who's been to 29 NHL venues, the unique way Preds fans continue to support their team, even if they're down a goal or have just had a bad period, that may stick out the most to me. It's impressive to watch the confidence be restored in Preds players after a bump in the road, it's as if they're saying along with the fans, "that's right, we can do this."

Video: Preds and fans go crazy after winning Second Round

Furthermore, I get that it may take a few more days before we can reflect on all the wonderful memories without a hint of regret still in them, but I know it'll happen. Too much good happened this season for it to be labeled anything but a massive success.

The nation saw that Smashville is second to none. Jeremy Roenick told Charles Barkley he would never see a better place to watch a game than in Nashville. Read that sentence again.

The Predators' youth delivered in a way that makes you giddy for the future. Colton Sissons just held his own as a first-line center against Sidney Crosby. Frederick Gaudreau scored three goals in the Stanley Cup Final. Pontus Aberg scored the goal of the playoffs in Game Two of the Final. Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Kevin Fiala and Ryan Johansen took turns being a game's best player on a night-to-night basis. Every single one of them is 24 years old or younger.

More than 2,000 season-ticket holder equivalents were added in the days following the regular season ending in mid-April until the Final in June. You want an example of a long-term impact? There's one. The Predators are nearing the point of having to cap season-ticket sales; who would have thought?

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

Here's the best thing that I can leave you with - only a few hours after the Predators' season ended. As you reflect on the awesome playoff run and naturally start to dream again of the Preds winning a championship, remember this, this team has been there. They've made it there.

Nashville won the Western Conference this season. There will be a banner raised in Smashville later this year. Those aforementioned young superstars, they know what it takes to get back there. The Predators No. 1 defense in the NHL is not going anywhere anytime soon.

So the next time Forsberg dreams of winning the Stanley Cup, it won't be a hazy figment of his imagination, it will be about this series that just ended. He'll know that next time, one shot here or a bounce there, and the trophy will be coming to his side of the ice. And we'll be right there with them, holding them up.

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Note: A moment to say thank you to my wife, Elizabeth, for the support she's given throughout this season. We often hear of players' families helping them reach the NHL, well, every NHL staffer has the same thing.

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