The Nashville Predators will have at least one banner to hang in Bridgestone Arena next fall.
Colton Sissons recorded a hat trick and the Preds defeated the Anaheim Ducks by a 6-3 final in Game Six to advance to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history. It's undoubtedly the most monumental victory the team has ever had, and although they're not done yet, they're going to enjoy this one for the night.
"It's a dream come true," goaltender Pekka Rinne said. "But it's a funny thing, though. With everything that's happening around us, you still feel hungry, and now we have a chance to play for the Cup. It's a pretty amazing feeling. And you've been working for that for a long, long time."
Game Six couldn't have started any better for the Preds, as Austin Watson threw a puck at the net just 1:21 into the contest, and the shot found its way off an Anaheim defender and past Jonathan Bernier for a 1-0 Nashville lead. Sissons doubled that number at the 8:47 mark, wiring a shot into the twine to give the Preds a 2-0 advantage after one period.
Despite the score, it was Anaheim who carried the play for the majority of the first two periods, and they cut the lead in half early in the second when Ondrej Kase slid a puck into a yawning cage past Pekka Rinne to get the Ducks on the board, a score that stood after 40 minutes.
Once the third period began, Sissons took over. First, he banged home a loose puck in the front of the net, and after Anaheim battled back to tie the game at three, it was Sissons again, this time one-timing home a feed from Calle Jarnkrok to put the Preds up for good. Empty-net goals from Filip Forsberg and Austin Watson sealed it, and as the clock ticked down to zero, the Predators players made a beeline for their goaltender, the last team standing in the Western Conference.
Video: ANA@NSH, Gm6: Predators awarded Campbell Bowl
"We started the year with all belief in this team to be able to go and try and win a Stanley Cup," forward James Neal said. "Every single team says that and starts their journey through the regular season into the playoffs and so many teams make it to the playoffs and get a chance to play, and now we're down to two. You love every guy in this dressing room, and what an unbelievable job they did tonight."
To clinch it is one thing. But to do it at home, in front of the fans who have played such a key role in the team's success, not only on this run, but from Day One of the franchise - that's even better.
"Nashville has really taken on a life of its own," Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "I think the downtown and the energy that's down here, I think our fans who have been so supportive for so many years, especially the last couple of years in the playoff runs that we've had, the energy that they bring into the building, and you guys see it just like we feel it on the bench. It goes to a level that I'm not sure goes anywhere else in the National Hockey League. And it's a great relationship. Our fan base and our team is a terrific relationship, and they were there again for us tonight. It wasn't our prettiest game out there. And they were right there with us the whole time."
Video: Sissons propels Preds to first Cup Final in 6-3 win
Western Conference Champs:
There's one more catfish to fry.
With their win in Game Six on Monday, the Predators captured their first Western Conference championship in franchise history. But that's not the end goal. And now they'll play for the sport's ultimate prize.
"I've said it earlier in the playoffs that this team has a tremendous amount of composure; there's so much confidence in this dressing room of what we can accomplish together if we play the right way," defenseman P.K. Subban said. "Today maybe we didn't get the start that we wanted, we got a couple of goals early but we still didn't feel that we were playing our best hockey. But good teams find a way and we found a way."
It's moments like these where names became those of the household variety, and Colton Sissons' hat trick in Game Six will do a world of good in adding his name to that list.
Video: ANA@NSH, Gm6: Sissons nets hatty in huge Game 6
"It feels good; I'm not going to lie," Sissons said. "I don't think I even dreamt of this moment, scoring a hat trick in a Western Conference-clinching game. I can't speak enough for just our whole group. We've been through some challenges together and we stuck together no matter what, just believed and here we are."
The Predators will be jetting off to either Ottawa or Pittsburgh before May 29 in time for Game One of the Stanley Cup Final.
But no matter the opponent, no matter the venue, the Predators are Western Conference Champions. And no one can ever take that away.
"It's almost like a thing you don't want to think about too much," Rinne said. "You have been holding it back, and in the back of your head you've been thinking about the Final, and then when the buzzer goes off, it's an amazing feeling."
Video: ANA@NSH, Gm6: Preds, Ducks shake hands at center ice
With his goal in the third period, Filip Forsberg recorded his 14th career postseason tally to become Nashville's all-time leading goal scorer in the postseason.
Game One of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final is set for Monday, May 29 in either Ottawa or Pittsburgh. Game Two comes May 31 before the series will shift to Nashville for Games Three and Four on June 3 and 5, respectively.