The Nashville Predators entered the 2014-15 season with hopes of finding a way to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after failing to qualify in back-to-back years.
They entered with a new coach, Peter Laviolette, who is the second in Predators history. Barry Trotz spent the first 15 years of their existence behind the bench. Armed with an ability to quickly turn things around, Laviolette seemed to be the perfect hire by general manager David Poile.
Just like Laviolette did in his first seasons with the New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers, he quickly got his team back on track. Laviolette, who coached the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup in 2006, has done such an impressive job his name has been mentioned as a Jack Adams Award candidate as the NHL's top coach.
One of Laviolette's greatest assets is goaltending. After battling a hip infection last season, Pekka Rinne responded in a big way. Among the NHL leaders in wins, goals-against average and save percentage, Rinne has all but assured himself to be a finalist in the Vezina Trophy race as the League's best goaltender.
"Rinne is synonymous with us being successful," Poile told the Predators website. "The last two years, with Rinne not being at 100 percent, we didn't make the playoffs either time. This year, he comes back, he's the old Pekka, if you will, and now our team is not only back in the playoffs but one of the best teams in the NHL."
After finishing with 38 wins and 88 points last season, the Predators have more than 100 points and found themselves competing for first place the Central Division. But the Predators haven't come close to achieving their ultimate goal, one they are certainly capable of accomplishing.
There are several formidable teams in the Western Conference, but the Predators can beat them all.
As far as last lines of defense is concerned, Rinne is among the best. And with captain Shea Weber anchoring the defensemen, the Predators have the ability to frustrate the opposition's top lines. It can't be discounted that the Predators managed to win close to 50 games in a division that includes the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues.
Weber averaged more than 26 minutes of ice time per game and is armed with one of the more lethal slap shots in the League. With Weber and defense partner Roman Josi, who is having a career year, the Predators have one of the best pairs in the NHL.
Combine that with the development of rookie forward Filip Forsberg, along with the resurgence and durability of top center Mike Ribeiro, and the Predators have the makings of a very special season.
Yes, there is enough here for the Predators to win their first Stanley Cup.
"We have to be proud and happy about clinching the playoffs," Rinne told the Predators website. "It's been a long year and we've been playing extremely well and consistent hockey. Not getting in the last two years was extremely disappointing, and so it feels good to be back in."
Author: Brian Compton | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor