The Nashville Predators beat the Anaheim Ducks by a score of 6-3 Monday Night in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. With the win, Nashville ended the series and punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history. Nashville never trailed during the game due to the superb play of goaltender Pekka Rinne and received a huge amount of support from a young center. Colton Sissons led the way for Nashville with 3 goals, including the game-winner with six minutes left to play in the third period. Following two empty net goals late in the game, the Nashville Predators stood tall as the last team remaining in the Western Conference.
Since entering the league in 1998, the Nashville Predators had never advanced past the second round of the NHL playoffs before this year. The team could have become complacent making it to the Conference Finals, but instead continued to make franchise history under head coach Peter Laviolette. Laviolette took over as the 2nd head coach in the franchise's history prior to the 2014-2015 season and has helped the team advanced further in the playoffs in each of his first three seasons.
With the team's series-clinching win Monday night, Laviolette became just the fourth head coach in NHL history to lead three different teams to an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals. He won with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, while losing with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010 to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Helene Elliot of the Los Angeles Times quoted Peter Laviolette following Nashville's win and his thoughts on achieving his 3rd appearance in the finals.
"Probably means that I got fired a lot. And I've got such a great group of guys in the locker room that I get to work with every day and the coaches get to work with every day. And that's what we've pretty much done this year, is just all of us tried to go to work and tried to get better. And we find ourselves in the position we're going to play for the Cup."
Even without the help of captain Mike Fisher and the team's leading scorer this postseason in Ryan Johanson, the Nashville Predators came out on top as the team to represent the Western Conference for the Stanley Cup. Even more surprising than that is the fact that Nashville finished as the lowest seed in the conference to make the playoffs at the end of the regular season and have now reached the Stanley Cup Finals. Nashville has become the first team to achieve that goal since the 2012 Los Angeles Kings, who went on to win the Stanley Cup against the New Jersey Devils.
One player who stands out more than any other for the Nashville Predators during this postseason is goaltender Pekka Rinne. He has been labeled as the backbone of the Nashville Predators with his 1.70 goals against average and record of 12-4 during the 2017 playoffs. In Monday night's win, Rinne stopped 38 of 41 Anaheim shots en route to a 6-3 final score for Nashville. Timely goaltending is always crucial to a Stanley Cup playoff run, and Rinne had proven to be the best goaltender remaining in these playoffs.
ESPN quoted the Nashville goaltender following the team's win and shared his thoughts on advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals.
"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."
The Nashville Predators now await the winner of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference Finals to see who they will face Monday night in their first-ever Stanley Cup Finals appearance.
[Featured Image by Sanford Meyers/Getty Images]