One more sleep to go.
After two-and-a-half months of uncertainty, and then two more filled with planning and preparation, hockey is truly back, and the Nashville Predators are set to participate in their sixth-straight postseason.
The Preds are a part of the first-ever Stanley Cup Qualifiers, a best-of-5 series that will determine who moves on to Round 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs - and their opponent comes in the form of the Arizona Coyotes.
Only one of those two clubs will win three games over the next week or so, and after a 2-0 victory versus the Dallas Stars in their lone exhibition contest in Phase 4, the Predators are feeling a quiet confidence in their room while still respecting the opposition in Arizona.
Just as Nashville will need a trio of victories to spend at least another week in Edmonton, here are three storylines to watch in this Stanley Cup Qualifier between the Preds and Yotes.
Video: SAP by the Numbers: Coyotes vs Predators
Perhaps the most talked-about item when the Preds began training camp three weeks ago was who would get the start in net for Game 1 against the Coyotes. Three weeks later, we're still waiting for that answer.
Predators Head Coach John Hynes hasn't revealed who will lead his team to the ice on Sunday afternoon at Rogers Place, but the bench boss said Saturday morning he had made his decision as to which of his goaltenders - Pekka Rinne or Juuse Saros - will receive the nod.
Neither of the netminders have made that decision an easy one either. Saros, who started the game against the Stars on Thursday and made 12 saves, and Rinne, who entered midway through the contest and stopped 13 more Dallas shots, combined for the shutout. The effort was as good as the Predators could have hoped for from either of the Finns, and all they did was show they're more than ready to go when called upon.
"We feel very confident in both goalies," Hynes said Saturday. "In training camp, they were both very competitive and both had played well. It's a unique situation here, because I just feel like the way that they are together, the way that they compete against each other and support each other, it's helpful when one guy's playing really well and doing well because the other guy really supports him but doesn't concede the net or concede the starting position. That's a really unique situation for us goaltending wise… We have confidence in both players…and we feel good about both guys."
The Predators may have to utilize both guys in this series, too. Following Game 1 on Sunday afternoon, the Preds and Coyotes will meet back-to-back on Tuesday and Wednesday for Games 2 and 3. Traditionally in those situations, both goaltenders would get a shot on consecutive days. There are a myriad of factors that will eventually determine how the Preds elect to approach that situation, but as Hynes has previously said, any team who makes a deep playoff run will need both goaltenders.
Rinne and Saros may both get their shot in this series, and the Preds won't mind one bit.
Video: Bonino, Josi and Tinordi talk Game 1 versus Coyotes
There aren't many on the Nashville roster who were pleased with their individual production in the 2019-20 regular season. Now, they've got a shot at redemption.
To find long-term success in this postseason, the Predators will need consistent contributions from their top players. Those relied upon to provide offense know that, and they don't take the responsibility lightly.
Nashville's top two lines - Johansen centering Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson, and then Matt Duchene in between Mikael Granlund and Kyle Turris - will need to put the puck in the net, and early reviews have been positive.
Arvidsson scored both of Nashville's goals on Thursday against Dallas, and Forsberg helped to set both of them up. Add those tallies to the clear chemistry both units showed through two weeks of training camp - and then four more practices here in Edmonton - and hopes are high for a successful run from the six.
"I can speak for myself only, but I'm assuming that [Arvidsson], [Johansen], [Duchene], a couple of guys feel the same way," Forsberg said following Thursday's win over the Stars. "We're all disappointed with how we played personally, individually. I think this break has been good for me, a good refresher - taking my mind off hockey, take a step back and look at it a little differently. Coming back here, I was really, really excited, first of all, to be able to get going. Then, getting back with [Johansen] and [Arvidsson], it was like that chemistry was there from Day One, and that increased the excitement even more.
"From then on, I think that was the biggest thing. Everybody just got to come back with a little bit of a different mindset - refreshed both body, but for me, I think I was more mentally refreshed. Whatever happened feels like it was a couple of seasons ago now when we last played. We're all starting fresh, and it's been fun so far."
The Edmonton experience will be even more enjoyable if the Bridgestone Arena goal horn echoes through Rogers Place with regularity this week, and Smashville's stars hope to be responsible.
Video: Hynes talks lineup, starting goalie before Game 1
The Boys of Summer:
When the calendar flips to August under normal circumstances, Predators players are relaxing at cottages and beaches across the globe resting up for another run at the trophy every hockey player covets.
Of course, 2020 has been anything but normal. And in the spirit of staying in line with the times, never have the Preds been more excited to be back on the ice and competing for a chance at the Cup.
"We all love to coach and play and be around the rink, and it was cut short, so I think all of us have gone through and come back a little bit more grateful for being around each other and having the opportunity to play and compete," Hynes said. "It's the best time of year. You're playing high-stakes hockey, and we feel like we're prepared. We're excited to be together, and we're looking forward to having a good Game 1."
After a week in Edmonton, the feeling around this group feels fresh, renewed and hungry - a quiet confidence that every great team must have when it matters most.
This journey - the likes of which none of us have ever seen before - truly begins at 1:08 p.m. CT on Sunday, and the Preds want nothing more than to Win for Smashville.