By sunrise, they'll be one of two.
For the first time since becoming Western Conference champions, the Nashville Predators took to the ice in preparation for their first Stanley Cup Final appearance next week. Their opponent - either Ottawa or Pittsburgh - will be determined after the two participate in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Final on Thursday night.
Indeed, the Predators realize how fortunate they are to be in their current position. They've shown that it doesn't matter how a team finishes in the regular season. What matters is how the club responds to the toughest challenges they can possibly face.
And because of Nashville's efforts, they had practice today. On May 25.
"It felt awesome to be out on the ice today," Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "The other side of that is that you're not on the ice today; you're having meetings and it's over, so for us, to be down this road, that's why I say guys are focused. They're ready, they'll be ready and it's an exciting time of the year… There's no place that any hockey player would rather be than playing in late May and early June."
In fact, only Laviolette, Assistant Coach Kevin McCarthy and Captain Mike Fisher have ever played or coached this late into the springtime. For everyone else on the Preds roster, this is a first. But you wouldn't know it from their confidence and composure. The veteran netminder sees a big reason why.
"I think we all have handled it really well, and it helps that Fish has been in the Final… and Lavi, this is his third time going to the Final," goaltender Pekka Rinne said. "Anytime you have experience like that, it kind of calms you down and they tell you stories and things like that. At the end of the day, you have to try to enjoy these moments. You never know how many you're going to get, and this is what you dream of. It's so much fun right now."
Video: Fisher, Ellis, Rinne and Subban preview Cup Final
Monday night was especially enjoyable when the Preds claimed the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl as champions of the West. For Rinne, however, and certainly some of his teammates as well, the celebration brought about a hint of hesitation, too.
"It was weird, I was very tired after the game and I didn't really know how to celebrate," Rinne said. "It feels weird wearing that hat and that t-shirt because I didn't feel like - of course I realize we got the trophy, but, I don't think anybody's going to remember that a couple years from now. Don't get me wrong, it's a huge accomplishment, and I'm sure I'll realize that over the summer and when the time goes past. But right now, I feel like my focus is so much on the Final that I didn't really celebrate that."
Like Rinne said, the conference title is great, but…
The preparations will continue over the next couple of days for the Preds before Game One appears on Monday night in an eastern city. It'll be then that they'll try for their fourth and final win away from home to start a series in these playoffs - a business trip, if you will. The work isn't done quite yet.
"You don't get too many opportunities like this when you make it to the final two teams," defenseman P.K. Subban said. "You just talk to guys who have been in the League a long time, these opportunities just don't come often. When you get them you try and make the best of them. We're excited and we're ready for it.
"For our hockey club, I just think everybody's got to grab the reins, understand the situation we're in and give everything they have."
In his address to the media on Wednesday, Predators General Manager David Poile hinted Captain Mike Fisher, who was injured in Game Four of the conference final, could participate in Wednesday's practice.
That was indeed the case as Fisher joined his teammates as he prepares to try and ready himself for an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.
Laviolette said the Preds will handle the situation internally, but added it was great to have Fisher back at practice. It also gives a lift to the entire team as well.
"It was great," Rinne said. "He's a big part of this team; everybody knows it, our leader and the captain. We all were really happy to see him on the ice."
Video: ANA@NSH, Gm6: Predators awarded Campbell Bowl
To Touch or Not to Touch?
Mike Fisher didn't give it much thought beforehand.
When the Preds captain met NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly at center ice after Nashville's Game Six win over Anaheim on Monday to become Western Conference Champions, he had a decision to make: touch the Campbell Bowl or let it be.
Fisher didn't necessarily have a preference either way, but he said after Thursday's practice he did conduct an informal poll before the presentation.
"Well I'm not superstitious, but I'm also not a dictator," Fisher quipped. "I don't think [touching it] has any bearing on what goes forward, but a lot of the guys didn't want to, so that's what we did. It was good to get a picture with it; it's something special and the fans were unbelievable as well. These are moments you never forget. There's only one goal left and that will be more special."
Fisher's goaltender didn't chime in with his opinion, but Rinne admitted he was glad the captain let it be.
"To me, it's always been that you don't touch," Rinne smiled. "I guess I believe in that stuff."