We all know the ultimate goal of the Nashville Predators is hoisting the Stanley Cup, but a Central Division title will be a sweet bonus.
Whenever I hear the interesting little nugget that the Nashville Predators have never won a division title, I have to remind myself that it’s sadly true. With the sustained success the Predators have enjoyed over the last decade, a division title has always eluded them.
Should we be concerned, or even really care about the Predators finishing on top of what is widely considered the best division in hockey? It certainly means an easier path through the playoffs. However, the Predators had the most difficult path through the playoff last year and we know how that ended up.
After last night’s thrilling win over division foe St.Louis, the Predators remain in first place. They’re also just two points shy of tying Tampa Bay in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy for the league’s top regular season record. These are all regular season accomplishments and not the main goal. With that said, it would be sweet to see the Nashville Predators add these accomplishments to their franchise history.
How they’ve gotten here
This season is shaping up to be drastically different from the 2016-17 season. A late-season playoff push is the only reason the Nashville Predators are current Western Conference champions. A stark contrast to this current season. The Predators are cruising, and spoiling us in the process. You can never count them out, and they’re piling up the points.
At this time last year, the Predators were sitting at 62 points. Obviously a much more precarious position than where they’re at this season. Now we can’t help but wonder if this team is ever going to let up. They keep making thrilling comebacks, and salvaging points on nights when they’re not playing their best. That’s what champions do.
What has the Nashville Predators in such great shape is their depth. They’re not relying on a few players to carry them. My biggest example of this is Calle Jarnkrok and how he’s responded to the pressure of seemingly being the replacement of James Neal. Not an easy task, but he’s rising to the challenge with 14 goals and 14 assists. You look at their top ten scorers, and it illustrates how stacked the Predators are to win their first division title in the 20-year history.
The remaining path
There’s a lot of work to be done this season. With all of this wild success, the Predators are just 12 points clear of being out of the playoff picture. Pure insanity that the Western Conference is that stacked. The Predators can’t lose focus and get too fixated on regular season accomplishments. A division title means nothing in the grand scheme of winning the Stanley Cup. Even so, the Predators are certainly in the driver’s seat to finish on top.
The biggest thing the Predators have going for them is they have two more games to play than 2nd-place Winnipeg, and four more games than 3rd-place St.Louis. That bolsters up the Predators’ odds to get a division title banner to hang in the rafters of Bridgestone Arena.
As for the remaining schedule, three battles with Winnipeg are on the horizon. Who comes out winning at least two of the three might finish on top. Of course, you can’t leave out St.Louis. They’re a talented team, and they were originally my preseason pick to win the division and my biggest obstacle standing in the way of the Predators. Judging by the Predators owning the season series 3-0, maybe that was just paranoia.
Dallas and Minnesota remain outliers to make things interesting. If either one of them steals the division, you tip your cap to them and prep for what will be a grueling playoff run. I don’t see that happening as the Predators have a healthy lead.
So what do I think happens? As much as I don’t want to jinx the Predators, I think this is their year to finally win the division. In such a potent division from top to bottom, what an accomplishment that will be. If this was a mentally weak team, I’d be worrying about winning a division just to lay an egg in the first round. It happens a lot to teams that have a lot of success in the regular. With the great coach that Peter Laviolette is, this team won’t let that happen. They narrowly win the division over St.Louis and get a No.1 overall seed over Las Vegas.