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Closer Look: Preds Unprecedented Playoff Success

Postseason Hype Grows as Predators Reach First Stanley Cup Final

by John Glennon @glennonsports / glennonsports@gmail.com

So just how did we get here, anyway?

It's a question worth asking with the Predators days away from playing in their first Stanley Cup Final, having already kicked three playoff rivals to the curb.

The Predators look nearly unbeatable at home - where they've compiled a 7-1 playoff record - and downtown Nashville has taken on a rock-concert/circus appearance.

The Preds and their fans are the talk of the sports world and beyond, evidenced by recent articles in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated and USA Today, among others.

It's hard to believe things began with little in the way of expectations and relatively little fanfare, outside of the rabid Preds supporters who've sold out Bridgestone Arena all season long.

Six weeks ago - back when many of us were still putting off our tax returns, and back when Nashville catfish were swimming without fear they might soon be served on NHL ice - the Predators eased into the playoffs as the 16th seed of 16 postseason participants.

It had been a good regular season for the Predators, but as they prepared to face the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks - winners of three of the previous seven Stanley Cups - even Nashville general manager David Poile wondered if next season might really be the Preds' year.

"Our season didn't go as well as we'd hoped or some people had predicted," Poile said. "P.K. (Subban) got hurt twice and there were just a lot of ups and downs. I said to myself that maybe next year would be even better than this with P.K., just because we really affected him big-time (with the trade from Montreal)."

The casual sports fans seemed to strike a similarly cautious note.

Butch Spyridon, president of Nashville's Convention and Visitors Corp, helped organize a viewing party for the Preds' first playoff game at Chicago. About 100 fans attended.

Video: David Poile fields questions on Preds Cup Final trip

But the Predators grabbed the hockey world's attention in a hurry, stunning the Blackhawks by shutting them out in back-to-back games at the United Center. By the time the Preds polished off Chicago in a four-game sweep, the hype machine was well underway.

On the ice, the Predators seemed to find a new hero almost every night, as 10 different players scored game-winning goals in the team's first 12 postseason victories. Goalie Pekka Rinne was the Preds' backbone, of course, as he allowed two or fewer goals in 11 of his 16 starts.

A Predators team that hadn't won five straight games during the entire regular season captured five victories in a row - and won seven of eight games -- to start the playoffs. The Preds are yet to lose two-straight games in the playoffs, yet to trail in any of their three playoff series, and yet to suffer a regulation loss at home in the postseason.

"You have to peak at the right time," Poile said. "Ladies and gentlemen, this year we have peaked - for the first time - at the right time. That's it in a nutshell. All of the components have come together after three rounds to this point, and we're getting fantastic contributions from everybody."

Away from the ice, the public can't seem to get enough of the underdog Predators, who've overcome injuries to four of their top-nine forwards - Kevin Fiala (season-ending), Craig Smith, Mike Fisher and Ryan Johansen (season-ending) - along the way.

The Preds have smashed their own local TV ratings records in one game after another, starting with a 9.4 mark for a second-round win over St. Louis. They topped that figure in five of the six games against Anaheim, culminating in a 16.5 for the Game Six clincher over the Ducks. Those kinds of local numbers are comparable to a University of Tennessee football game against Alabama or Florida.

Video: Sean Henry discusses city's passion during playoffs

Other facts and figures from this playoff run are just as stunning, per Predators President and CEO Sean Henry:

  • On game days during the season, the Preds were getting about 40,000 visits to their team website. During the day of the most recent playoff game, about 150,000 visitors clicked on the website.

  • During the regular season, the Preds estimated that anywhere from 500 to 5,000 fans attempted to buy the 100 day-of-game tickets the team always sells. During the most recent playoff game, 75,000 people tried to buy those tickets.

  • The Predators finished the regular season at 10,000 season-ticket equivalents. But they've jumped to 12,000 since then, and expect to start next year closer to 13,000.

"People are engaged in what we're doing," Henry said. "We always said we had the most passionate fans in all of sports. The difference is now we have the most passionate fan base in sports and it's growing by the moment. That's really exciting for us."

Oh, and that little Predators viewing party that began on the Bridgestone Arena plaza with 100 fans in attendance?

Bridgestone's exterior looked more like Bonnaroo last Monday, with a crowd of at least 8,000 fans shutting down 5th Avenue and watching the game on one of three giant screens ringing the arena.

The Predators and the city have even bigger plans for the Stanley Cup Final viewing parties, understandable considering Henry expects a throng upward of 20,000 outdoor fans.

The wave of Predators playoff emotion, it seems, has yet to crest.

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