The Nashville Predators have had one of the best regular seasons in franchise history. NCAA Tournament upsets remind us great regular seasons can easily be forgotten.
Just because the Nashville Predators spent the last week on the road doesn’t mean things were quiet in Bridgestone Arena. The Predators’ home facility served as one of the hosts of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament First & Second Rounds over the weekend. It was nice to see the familiar Predators logo in the background as players walked around in the bowels of the arena.
As a Predators fan based in Northern Kentucky, my eyes were on two teams in particular that happened to be playing in Nashville. My grandfather went to Xavier University, so the Musketeers have always been one of my favorite teams to root for. I attended the University of Louisville, so the Cincinnati Bearcats have long been a team I would root against.
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Cincinnati & Xavier have both had issues getting over the hump. Xavier has never made it to the Final Four, while Cincinnati hasn’t been that far since 1992. The Nashville Predators didn’t even exist when Nick Van Exel took the Bearcats to Minneapolis. Cincinnati has been to the Sweet 16 twice since 2000.
March is what matters
These programs have been great during the regular season. Everybody knows that success in college basketball is defined by the NCAA Tournament. How far you advance determines how good your season is. That’s often a shame, as regular seasons are full of incredible moments & great accomplishments. At the end of the day, people only care about how you did in March.
Xavier won the Big East regular-season championship for the first time & got a 1 seed for the first time in their history. Senior leadership from Trevon Bluiett, Sean O’Mara & J.P. Macura was expected to take Xavier further than it had ever gone in March. This was going to be the year.
Cincinnati won the American Conference regular season & tournament championship & got a 2 seed, their highest in the tournament since 2002. With players like Gary Clark, Jarron Cumberland, Jacob Evans & Kyle Washington, Cincinnati was expected to go a long way. This was going to be the year.
In less than six hours at Bridgestone Arena on Sunday night, their dreams went up in smoke. Cincinnati blew a twenty-two point lead against the Nevada Wolfpack. Xavier blew a twelve point lead against the Florida State Seminoles. Both teams were well on their way to winning, until they weren’t.
The curse that seems to have enveloped all Cincinnati sports teams since the Reds’ last World Series Championship in 1990 struck again. The good news for the Nashville Predators is that they aren’t based in Cincinnati.
Can it happen here?
The Predators were the first team to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They have the best record in the NHL right now. They’re re-writing their regular season record book with winning streaks & shutouts. For the past couple of months, they have run through everybody standing in their path. Most unbiased observers consider the Nashville Predators serious contenders to raise the Cup.
It’s tough to say where to start with the highlights from this season. Pekka Rinne won his three hundredth game. David Poile broke the record for wins by an NHL general manager. The comeback win over St. Louis. Juuse Saros‘ multiple 40+ save shutouts. The immediate contribution of Kyle Turris powering a run in November & elevating Kevin Fiala & Craig Smith to new heights. The continued brilliance of the JoFA Line & the defense corps.
The 2017-18 regular season has been packed with incredible memories for Nashville Predators fans. There’s one small issue: If it doesn’t result in a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, preferably ending with raising the Cup, it’ll be a disappointment.
You hate to say it like that. We like to say that it isn’t about the destination, it’s the journey to get there. It’s terrible to think that six fun months of Nashville Predators hockey could be wiped out by four losses early in the playoffs. It’s the absolute truth though.
Cincinnati & Xavier had tremendous regular seasons with plenty of moments like the Predators have had. You won’t find anybody in the Tri-State area talking about any of them right now. It’s all about their epic collapses in Bridgestone Arena.
It’s not just a Cincy thing
Tennessee college basketball fans sure can relate to this. The Volunteers’ highly successful regular season has been wiped out, first by Kentucky in the SEC Tournament & now by Loyola Chicago in the NCAA Tournament. Middle Tennessee won twenty-four regular season games & looked to make some noise in March for the third straight season. A loss in the Conference USA Tournament sent them to the NIT & a loss in the second round to Louisville.
Want a hockey example? Ask Chicago Blackhawks fans if they remember the 2016-17 season fondly. They had the best regular season record in the Western Conference. Nashville Predators fans know what happened next.
Every great regular season is a postseason failure away from being forgotten. We have to hope that the Nashville Predators won’t find this out on a personal level.