The Nashville Predators will meet the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night. Here are 6 reasons they’ll deserve your cheers.
1. They’re the absolute underdogs
When they take the ice on Monday night, the Predators will have already made history on a couple of different fronts. Not only will this be the franchise’s first Cup Final, but it will also be the first time in NHL history that a 16th seed has advanced that far.
The league doesn’t use traditional conference seeding anymore, but it’s still worth noting that to see just how far the Predators have come. After a disappointing start to the regular season, the Predators were barely in wild-card position come March. They went on a late season tear, winning nine out of 16 games, to make the playoffs.
In the post season, despite suffering numerous injuries (Mike Fisher, Ryan Johanson, Kevin Fiala) they’ve managed to dispatch the Blackhawks, Blues and Ducks because of their depth, offensively minded defenseman and the masterful play of goalie Pekka Rinne.
They’ll be the true underdogs against a Pittsburgh team that finished with the second best record in the NHL, and are looking to be the first team since the 97, 98 Detroit Red Wings to repeat as Cup champions.
2. Bandwagon fans are welcome
A lot of fan bases can be inhospitable to johnny-come-latelys, but Nashville, who’ve only been a team for 19 years, are pretty much the opposite. They’re still relatively new in the NHL and know that welcoming new comers is key in a non-traditional market.
Early in their history, many who attended Predators’ games were transplant Red Wings fans who had moved to the area from Detroit to work at a new GM plant. Called the “Pred Wings” these fans were the start of Nashville’s love of hockey. The team embraced them and continues to have an open door policy for newcomers.
3. P.K. Subban
After the shocking trade from Montreal, P.K. Subban let it be known quickly and early that he’d reach a Cup Final with the Predators. Subban referenced those comments again after the Predators clinched.
“When I got traded, I said it. I said ‘I believed I was going to have a tremendous opportunity to win a Stanley Cup with this team’, maybe got a little bit of slack for it…but I believe in this dressing room,” he said.
Anyone who tries to tell you that the Subban trade wasn’t motivated hugely by issues of personality and being the “right fit” in the dressing room, probably can’t yet admit what a colossally bad idea it was.
Now, in his first season with Nashville, he’s going to a Cup final while the team that didn’t want him exited in the first round.
4. Pekka Rinne
I’m a sucker for old goalies who haven’t ever played for the Cup, and the Predators’ Pekka Rinne, who is 34, fits right into that narrative.
Rinne has spent his entire career with the Predators, and until recently he was at the top of the list of NHL goalies with most playoff wins that had yet to reach a Final. Now, the Capitals Braden Holtby takes the top spot with 29.
After losing to the San Jose Sharks in 2016, a dejected Rinne wondered how many more chances he’d get.
“You see yourself getting older and you realize how important these chances are… This felt like our year,” he said.
This year, Rinne has been unbeatable in net and is the backbone of the Predators team. He has a 1.54 GAA and .947 save percentage and is a favorite for the Conn Smythe.
5. Incredible national anthems
Music has always been an important part of Predators’ games. For the playoffs, the Predators have marshaled some of Music City’s biggest names to sing the national anthem. Carrie Underwood (who is married to Predators captain Mike Fisher) did the honors before the first game of the playoffs, and a coterie of famous singers, like Trisha Yearwood, Luke Bryan and Keith Urban, have followed.
6. Smashville fans
Goalie taunts are nothing unusual across NHL arenas, but the Nashville fans go beyond just using sing-song voice to mock the man between the pipes.
One of the most unique parts of the Nashville experience is the chants the fans have developed to ride opposing goalies.
Every time the home team scores, they chant “It’s all your fault” at the net minder from the other side.
Another classic is this move on the Blackhawks last year.
After Crawford let in a goal, they savaged him with a taunt.
“Crawford, Crawford, Crawford, YOU SUCK!”
It’s brutal, yes, but also indicative of the fan culture in Nashville, which is boisterous, loud, and has the atmosphere of a rowdy bar. All of it’s helped carve out a unique identity among NHL teams and something worth cheering for on Monday night.