Chances were already high that the Nashville Predators would be jetting off to the state of Missouri sometime this week, but when the St. Louis Blues scored in overtime to defeat the Minnesota Wild early Saturday evening, the meeting was confirmed.
The Preds and the Blues will get together in the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in what will be the first postseason meeting between the Central Division foes.
After two well-earned days off thanks to a sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks in Round One, the Predators were back on the ice on Sunday as preparations began to face a St. Louis team that needed only five games to defeat Minnesota.
In his postgame media address following Game Four against Chicago, Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette emphasized that Round Two would be tougher than what his club just came out of - not a slight to the Blackhawks, but simply a recognition that each round of the postseason increases exponentially in physicality and mental toughness.
Laviolette and his staff will utilize time this week, on and off the ice, to prepare their team for exactly that. Just as they had prior to Round One, time is on the Preds side, thanks to not only the sweep, but also limited travel within their own time zone.
Video: Ekholm, Fisher, Forsberg & Rinne talk Preds vs. Blues
"We've played teams in our division pretty well," Laviolette said Sunday. "Every time it seems like we play somebody in our division, we have to play a certain way. I think we understand how that is against them, so we'll work at it this week and try to get the guys prepared for that."
"They're a great hockey team," Captain Mike Fisher said of the Blues. "We watched them play in that First Round, and they're playing some great hockey. They finished up the season really well, so we know it's going to be a tougher series than what we came out of. We have to be prepared."
Fisher's comment on the late-season improvement from the Blues is right on - once St. Louis fired former Head Coach Ken Hitchcock on Feb. 1 and promoted Mike Yeo to the position, the team went 22-8-2 down the stretch, the best record in the League since that date.
"They're one of the top teams, and just some of the statistics after the coaching change, they're the No. 1 team [in] pretty much all aspects," goaltender Pekka Rinne said of the Blues. "It's been an extremely dangerous team down the stretch and First Round against Minnesota… It's a different type of team, but I think we have to still focus on continuing to play the way we played against Chicago."
Video: Laviolette previews Preds and Blues in Round Two
So for the second consecutive season, the Predators will prepare for play in the Second Round - expectations are rising, and they can't wait to live up to them.
"It's the best time of the year," Rinne said. "It's so much fun and you realize there's only eight teams left at this point, so now this is the time."
Rinne Wins Media Recognition Award:
The Nashville Chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association honored Preds goaltender Pekka Rinne on Sunday, naming him the recipient of the 2017 Media Recognition Award. Rinne is the seventh different recipient of the award since the inaugural naming was held in 2011, joining past winners Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi, Eric Nystrom, Hal Gill, Jerred Smithson and Shane O'Brien.