The Nashville Predators return home tonight for the biggest game in franchise history and a chance to go where they've never gone before.
With a 3-1 win in Game Five of the Western Conference Final over the Anaheim Ducks, the Preds are one victory away from clinching a berth in the Stanley Cup Final, a possibility they can't help but think about. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"The guys know what the next step is, and it's going to be a hard-fought game," Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "So whatever pushes your buttons to make you realize where you're going to be at, then I think they have to be dialed in for that game. So if that's one way of motivating, that's a good way."
Colin Wilson, Pontus Aberg and Austin Watson scored for Nashville in Game Five, while goaltender Pekka Rinne recorded his 11th win of the 2017 postseason. It was Nashville's fifth road victory of the playoffs, and they did so without the services of Ryan Johansen and Mike Fisher due to injury. Johansen is out for the postseason, while Laviolette called Mike Fisher day-to-day after Game Five.
With an assist in Game Five, Filip Forsberg extended his point streak to six consecutive games and tied Johansen for the team scoring lead with 13 points. Defensemen Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban, plus forward Viktor Arvidsson, have 10 points apiece. Forsberg leads the team with seven goals, while Josi and James Neal have five each. Rinne carries a 1.62 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage through 15 games.
Ryan Getzlaf continues to lead the Ducks in scoring with 18 points, followed by Jakob Silfverberg with 14 points and Rickard Rakell (who will not play today due to injury) with 13. Silfverberg, Getzlaf and Rakell have nine, eight and seven goals, respectively. Ducks goaltender John Gibson, who has nine wins, left Game Five with a lower-body injury and did not return, with Jonathan Bernier taking the loss in the game. Ducks Head Coach Randy Carlyle said Gibson would be re-evaluated prior to Game Six.
Video: Preds can advance to Cup Final with a win
As the Predators look to clinch a Western Conference title at home, here are three things to watch for:
If there's been a constant in Nashville's 11 wins during this postseason, it's that there's almost no constant. Ten different Preds skaters have tallied the game-winning goals in those games, with James Neal the only player with two of them. Pontus Aberg was the latest to tally a winner, his first career playoff goal. In fact, Aberg is just the 11th player since 1988 to score his first-ever game-winning goal in the conference finals.
So who will play the role of hero tonight? As the Preds have shown, it could be just about anyone.
Video: Josi and Rinne talk about excitement level for Game 6
Home, Sweet Bridgestone:
Home-ice advantage hasn't been as prevalent in this series, with the home team owning a 2-3 record. Nashville's only loss at Bridgestone Arena came in Game Four against Anaheim, a 3-2 overtime loss. But even then, the crowd was electric.
According to those with measuring devices in the building, the decibel level inside the arena hit over 129 when Filip Forsberg tied the game with less than a minute to play in regulation - and that surely wasn't the only point when the noise was ear-splitting. Considering the importance of tonight's game, the crowd may very well play a role once more. Get your earplugs ready.
Video: Laviolette on players stepping up
One Game at a Time…But:
Throughout these Stanley Cup Playoffs, the experience that Nashville gained in years prior has shone brightly. No matter how big the win or deflating the loss, it hasn't seemed to get to the Preds, knowing that the job isn't complete.
So tonight, in what will be the biggest game in franchise history, simply overtaking the last one, the Predators will worry about nothing more than playing the game that has made them successful 11 times thus far in these playoffs.
But there's no way to escape what's at stake tonight. As Laviolette stated above, there's nothing wrong with the Predators visualizing a winning outcome, using it to drive them to heights never seen before.
When You Go:
Game Six presented by Tennessee Lottery at Bridgestone Arena begins at 7 p.m. CT with doors opening at 5 p.m. The festivities start with a Plaza Party presented by Lee Company at 4 p.m., and the fun continues through the evening. All fans in attendance for Game Six will receive a Gold rally towel presented by Tennessee Lottery.
For additional details on the game and how to watch, visit the Preds Playoff Hub.
Take It In:
Game Six can be seen on NBCSN across America, Sportsnet in Canada and heard on 102.5 The Game and the Predators Radio Network.