In the first three rounds of this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Predators proved themselves swift executioners.
Given the opportunity to dispatch Chicago, St. Louis and Anaheim, the Preds did so immediately, terminating each of their higher-seeded foes in the first available elimination game.
Two months into their marathon postseason run, however, the Predators finally find themselves on the other side of the stomping boot.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will roll into Bridgestone Arena with a 3-2 lead in the Stanley Cup Final, intent on bringing an end to the Preds' season on Nashville's home ice.
Will the Preds, for the first time in these playoffs, prove themselves capable of dodging the death blow they've delivered three times themselves?
"I think that we're a pretty good team when we're desperate," Predators forward Colin Wilson said.
Wilson's words might have sounded like so much bravado just a few years ago, when the Preds were struggling to advance in the playoffs with any kind of consistency. In their first seven trips to the postseason, the Predators went just 1-7 when facing elimination.
But things began to change in that department in Peter Laviolette's first season here, when the Preds held off the Blackhawks once in 2015 before seeing the season end in Chicago.
The Predators of 2016 turned cheating the reaper into an art form, three times finding a way to win potential elimination games in just two series. A quick recap for newcomers:
- In the First Round against Anaheim, the Preds traveled back from the West Coast trailing the Ducks 3-2. But thanks in part to goalie Pekka Rinne stopping 62-of-64 shots over the next two games, the Predators captured two-straight games and advanced.
- In the Second Round against San Jose, the Preds also trailed the Sharks 3-2. But in front of a rabid home crowd, the Predators twice battled back in Game Six - from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits - before Viktor Arvidsson sent the series to Game Seven with an overtime backhand for the memory books.
"I felt like we stayed calm under those pressure situations," Predators forward Colton Sissons said. "It's not easy to have your back against the wall and to be needing a win, but we did a pretty good job of that."
About a dozen of the Predators that played in last year's Game Six win over San Jose - which was the third-straight time Nashville had staved off potential elimination - are likely to suit up Sunday against the Pens, hoping the lessons learned and character forged in those contests will carry forward.
"Being in that kind of situation is the only way to get that real experience," Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. "You can talk about it as much [as you want], but you have to experience it, live it, be in that position. We were last year, and I think all the guys know how to handle themselves in these situations now."
Recent Stanley Cup Final history does offer some successful blueprints for the Predators, who will have to twice fend off series-clinchers if they are to capture the crown. Pittsburgh rallied from a 3-2 series deficit to defeat Detroit in 2009, and Boston beat Vancouver twice in a row to capture the 2011 Cup.
But perhaps the biggest reason to believe the Preds can at least push this series to the limit is Bridgestone Arena and, more precisely, the fanatical supporters that have helped carry the team to its present position.
The Preds are 9-1 at home in the playoffs this year, have outscored opponents 34-15 in those games, and have beaten Pittsburgh twice here by a combined margin of 9-2.
"This is going to be the biggest game of our lives," Ekholm said, "just as it has been the last 20 games or so."
Does facing elimination mean the Preds will be under more pressure than they've dealt with in this postseason?
Perhaps, but keep this in mind:
Should they win on Sunday, the Predators won't be the only team that can't afford another loss.