Predators bring swagger into Western Conference Final

NASHVILLE, TN – MAY 07: Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (35) celebrates with center Calle Jarnkrok (19), defenseman Roman Josi (59) and defenseman Ryan Ellis (4) at the conclusion of Game Six of Round Two of the Stanley Cup Playoffs between the Nashville Predators and the St. Louis Blues, held on May 7, 2017, at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. The Predators defeated the St. Louis Blues to advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. (Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

ANAHEIM, Calif. – The Nashville Predators don’t see themselves as the favorite to win the Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks.

Sure, there’s a confidence, belief and swagger but there’s not a level of cockiness coming from their locker room.

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“We always had confidence in the room even before the Chicago series and obviously Chicago is a great team over there and I thought we played a really good series (sweeping them in the first-round), but I wouldn’t say we’re the favorites,” Nashville defenseman Roman Josi said. “It’s going to be a real tough match-up. They won the Pacific Division and they’re a great team over there. We have a lot of confidence in the room, but it has always been like that even before playoffs.”

Though Nashville tried to ramp down expectations before Game 1 on Friday at Honda Center, there seems to be a major external belief that they should make their first Stanley Cup Final trip in franchise history.

It’s a different situation for the Predators – an organization that has often had to fight through never-ending underdog status to reach this point. The Predators currently hold the best record of teams remaining in the playoffs at 8-2.

“We don’t get too high, we don’t get too low but I think still doing the right things all season long has been the main factor and the main key to it,” defenseman Mattias Ekholm said of the team’s postseason surge. “I think we played really good at times in the regular season and that’s where we really picked it up this postseason, just being on that level when everyone is contributing, everyone wants this and there’s really just a mentality of, ‘we’re not going to get beat here.’”

The Predators had some Stanley Cup expectations around them at the start of the season, but played inconsistent hockey most of the way to finish with the eighth-best record in the Western Conference with 94 points.

Beating the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the first-round of the playoffs in a sweep changed the mentality with the group. Though they had belief before, that victory gave them a sense that they could win against anybody if they played their game.

“What was it 46 out of 48 (media members) had Chicago in the first-round?” Ekholm said. “We managed to get out of that with the way we played and I think more so the way we played and the way we handled ourselves. We know Chicago’s a great team, we know any team that gets in the playoffs is a great team so anyone you match up against, if you sweep you’ve done a pretty good job. I just thought the way we played in the first-round got us a lot of confidence and that’s something we continue building on.”

In today’s era of parity in the NHL, belief and buy-in from teams is arguably the most important part of a winning postseason group. The Predators have bought into coach Peter Laviolette in a way that makes them very dangerous.

“When you break it down, the way we were playing, we were playing some good hockey at the end of the year, and that moved forward into the Playoffs,” Laviolette said.

For the Ducks to beat Nashville, that team needs to somehow put doubt into the heads of the Predators. So far that hasn’t happened with the Predators winning Game 1 in each series and putting the pressure on their opponents right away. That will be Anaheim’s challenge to start this series.

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“They haven’t changed dramatically as far as personnel from last year,” Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said. “They’re pretty much the same team, and the majority of the players that are in our dressing room fortunately played against them last year in the Playoffs. There’s not a lot of surprises from lineup to lineup, from this year to last year.”

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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