The Nashville Predators know where they'll be landing Saturday afternoon.
When Chris Kunitz scored in double overtime during Thursday's Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Final to send the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Ottawa Senators and into the Stanley Cup Final, the waiting game ended.
On Friday, the Preds were on the ice for the second-straight day preparing to face their fourth and final opponent of these playoffs, which turns out to be a team headed to the Cup Final for the second consecutive season.
Chances are the Penguins will present the toughest challenge that Nashville has seen during their run to the Final, and it starts with Pittsburgh's all-star centers in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Winger Phil Kessel isn't half bad either, and goaltender Matt Murray, who recently took back over in net in favor of Marc-Andre Fleury, has the capability to be a top goaltender in the League.
Preds defenseman Mattias Ekholm went down that checklist after Friday's practice, and although he and the rest of his teammates are aware of the firepower Pittsburgh possesses, he likely won't be going to bed with a Malkin one-timer first on his mind.
"To be honest, I'm not looking too much at them, but [rather] looking at us," Ekholm said. "I think the previous series, we've just been looking at us. You pay attention to what their strengths and weaknesses are, but at the end of the day, as long as we play on top of our game, play to our abilities and just attack the game, I think we're going to be a good matchup."
Video: Ekholm, Neal and Sissons discuss facing Penguins
Nashville believes they've seen something similar to Pittsburgh's style earlier in these playoffs, stating their First Round series against Chicago brought many of the same traits - speed, offensive abilities and Stanley Cup experience. That's not to say the Preds are anticipating a similar result, but it won't hurt to draw from those recent experiences either.
"We've played in physical series, we've played in speed series against Chicago, and I think Pittsburgh is a team more like Chicago that's going to come at you with top-end players, with skill and speed," forward James Neal said. "For us, we have to be hard on those guys. It starts with [Crosby] and [Malkin] and you have to be tough on those guys and play them hard. We'll definitely go over each guy in detail and be ready to go."
A former Penguin himself, arriving in Nashville via trade during the summer of 2014, Neal may have an edge on some of his teammates when it comes to the scouting report. So for him, there's admittedly a little something extra facing his former team on a stage as impressive as this one.
"Watching the game last night, I just felt like it wasn't going to be anybody ele but them," Neal said. "It was just kind of a weird feeling, but an excited feeling."
No longer waiting on the opposition, the attention now turns to Game One, which will come Monday night at PPG Paints Arena in the Steel City. Nashville hasn't lost an opening game of a series in the 2017 postseason, going 3-0 thus far - all on the road.
Video: Laviolette on Preds preparing for Penguins
"I think you can gain confidence from that," Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette said of successful starts on the road. "I don't think we should rely on it as this is our thing, but it will come down to how we play that night and know we can be successful in Game Ones. But in these series, you have to go out and do the work."
One more weekend is all that separates the Predators from playing in their biggest game in franchise history. And just like all the rest of those outings, the Preds can't wait for the puck to drop.
"It's the best time of the year, and now we have the chance to play for the Stanley Cup," Neal said. "We couldn't be happier."
The Tennessee Titans have been out in force during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs to support their neighbors across the Cumberland River, and at Friday's practice, Music City's baseball club paid a visit.
Members of the Nashville Sounds, including General Manager & COO Adam Nuse, stopped by to watch practice from Centennial Sportsplex and present Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette with a personalized jersey to show their support.
Nuse said it was his players who wanted to support the Preds, and with an upcoming road trip not allowing them the chance to attend Stanley Cup Final games in Nashville, this wasn't a bad alternative.
"This was an opportunity to come out, give a jersey, show that we're part of this community with them and we're proud of what they're doing," Nuse said. "I get asked all the time if Nashville is becoming one of the greatest sports towns in the country, and I think the Predators are getting that conversation started."
Send Them Off:
The Predators will travel to Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon in advance of Games One and Two of the Stanley Cup Final, and fans are invited to send the team off as they depart from Signature Flight Support at the Nashville International Airport. The flight departs at 1 p.m. CT.