With the Nashville Predators advancing out of the first round of the playoffs for the second consecutive season Nashville is getting recognition around the league – the players, the coaching staff, the fans, the market as a hockey time. An expansion team that opened play in 1998-99, the Preds are moving beyond their expansion roots.
Beating the Detroit Red Wings in five games in the Western Conference Quarterfinals would appear to be a giant step, but both Ryan Suter
and Shea Weber
think this is a team that can show even more.
"Everyone looks up to Detroit as a successful franchise," Weber said. "We are trying to build something special here and hopefully we can just keep getting better.
"I don't think we have reached that top level yet. This game was a step in the right direction. We got better as the series went on. We just have to get better as a playoff squad because the teams we are going to play are going to be better."
Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne
was the workhorse of the series, but he was quick to point to the pairing of Suter and Weber as the backbone of the defense.
"They play so many minutes," Rinne said. "They mean so much to this team.
"You can't truly say enough about those two guys. They are our leaders on and off of the ice. They kind of took over the defensive game in this series playing against Detroit's top guys and they were still able to produce some offense."
Weber returned the compliment to Rinne whose goaltending unquestionably carried the Predators through the Detroit series.
"Pekka makes it easy for us back there," Weber said. "We play confident in front of him because we know he is going to bring the same thing every night. We just have to keep giving him more support and as much help as we can to make it easier on him."
Rinne also thinks the series win over Detroit, the first in three tries, is an indication the Predators have elevated their game.
"I thought at the end of the regular season that we had elevated our game and had one extra gear in our tanks," Rinne said. "Beating Detroit is only going to have a positive effect on us.
"We have a young group of guys. Every extra bit of confidence we can gain is great. We are playing solid hockey. I feel comfortable playing any other team in the NHL."
Weber played a game-high 27:27 on 31 shifts in the deciding 2-1 victory Friday night at Bridgestone Arena. Suter was close behind with 27:21 on 30 shifts. They each played more than 30 minutes in game four. They are the only two Predators to play in every game in the team's last four playoff trips.
Spending most of their time playing against the likes of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk made the minutes seem even longer.
"You are kind if sitting back on your heels and trying to save your energy to play defense," Suter said. "It is tough to create offense playing against Zetterberg and Datsyuk all game long.
"I don't know if we took over on defense. Our main goal is just to play defense and shut the other guys down."
Predators coach Barry Trotz agreed with Rinne that Suter and Weber set the defensive intensity level.
"They set the tone for the resiliency on defense," Trotz said. "But they brought along the Kevin Kleins and Roman Josis who played real huge and important minutes. The whole group did it, but obviously those two guys (Suter and Weber) make it happen."
Suter speculated that fans might think the first round win elevates the team, but adds that the Predators have believed in themselves all season.
"It doesn't matter how many games it takes as long as you beat the other team," Suter said. "It doesn't matter if it is four games, five games or seven.
"For us the biggest thing was to get out of the first round. We have had confidence in here all year that we have a good team."
Trotz often refers to the Red Wings as the "gold standard" in the Central Division.
"We got tested," Trotz said. "We got measured by the Detroit Red Wings -- they're a great hockey team. They check so well. They manage the puck so well. They've got great experience. They've got great character. We used to look up at Detroit, feeling that we were a little inferior in terms of talent or whatever it may be. We were a little in awe of them. I think it has gotten to the point where we have a great respect for the Detroit Red Wings, but we are not in awe of them. That's the stepping stone that we have taken."
"You see it from an ownership level. Going forward our goal is to bring a Stanley Cup to Nashville some day. Our top players want to be in a position to do that."
Detroit coach Mike Babcock sumed up the importance of the Predators defense.
, Shea Weber
and Ryan Suter
are franchise players," Babcock said. "I don't know of any other team in the National League that has that."