Monday, April 11, 2011

Time Has Come For Nashville To Reach Next Level

In sports, the basis of judgement is on how a team performs in clutch situations like the postseason. Nobody cares about how good a team might have been during the regular season, or how consistently they make it into the postseason. It's all about how they perform once they get there. Nashville fans know this all too well.

This season's playoff berth marks the six one in seven years for the Nashville Predators. They're looking to win their first playoff series in franchise history against a talented Anaheim Ducks team. The Preds know that now is the time to take the next step.

Nashville's first playoff experience came in 2004, as the "little team that could" put up a valiant effort against their arch rival Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings would win the series in six games, but it was clear that Nashville had made progress.

In the two years that followed the NHL lockout of 2004-05, the Predators expected something more. They went out and signed Paul Kariya in 2005, and had the best year in franchise history up until that point. However, San Jose made quick work of the Predators in the 1st round. A year later, the Preds added Peter Forsberg at the trading deadline to try and make a push for the Stanley Cup. Again, however, San Jose had other ideas and eliminated the Predators in five games.

Then came another match-up with Detroit in the playoffs. The Preds once again put up a great fight against the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, but the Red Wings beat the Predators in six games.

Last year, the Predators looked to be ready to make that next step. They had Chicago on the run in Game 5 at the United Center with just seconds remaining, and an extended power-play after a Marian Hossa penalty. Nashville proceeded to gift wrap that opportunity and hand the game(and the series) to the Blackhawks.

This year, there are no excuses for Nashville for losing in the 1st round of the playoffs. This is the best match-up that the Preds have ever had going into the playoffs, and they've never had a player playing better than Pekka Rinne is going into the playoffs.

Hockey pundits everywhere are picking the Ducks to win the series. So? What else is new? Respect isn't something that is handed out like candy on Halloween. It's something that has to be earned! The only way that Nashville is going to earn that respect is to perform well in the postseason.

That doesn't mean putting up a great effort and being beaten in six or seven games. It means taking control of a series and winning it. The playoffs are a completely different style of play than regular season hockey is. Every single shift matters so much more. Whoever wants it more will end up getting it. That's just the way it works.

Leadership is something that is invaluable during a playoff series. The mental and emotional grind of a series can be equally as taxing as the physical grind. For the first time in franchise history, Nashville may have the leader that is able to get them over that hump. Shea Weber is a competitor unlike anyone that the Predators have ever had. That is something that cannot be over-valued in this series.

Barry Trotz also has to command this team. Trotz has been criticized for the way his teams play in the postseason. Some claim his style doesn't work, and others claim they get away from the style that made the Predators successful all year. One thing, however, is for certain. This is the year that Nashville has to make that next step.

Regardless of what any of the so called "experts" may say, Nashville has turned into a hockey town. The attendance this year reflects that. The overall increase of passion for the sport in general reflects that. That means the Predators have to take that next jump from average to elite. They have to buckle down, and go out there and get the job done.

To be the best, you have to beat the best. That's what the NHL playoffs are all about. That journey to the next level will begin for Nashville on Wednesday night. The mentality of Nashville needed to change, and it appears that it has. Look no further than the captain. "Let's keep it rolling and see if this beard can get a little longer".

PHOTO CREDIT: |Source=[ IMG_2311.jpg] )

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