NHL

How the Predators reached their first Stanley Cup final

This spring, with the worst record of the 16 playoff teams, the Preds have advanced to the first Stanley Cup final in team history. How did they do it? Here are a few reasons:

Not many predicted a Stanley Cup run for Nashville this season

Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne, left, was instrumental in securing a Stanley Cup final berth for Nashville. (Sanford Myers/Getty Images)

Ten years ago the Nashville Predators scooped up future Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg at the trade deadline and finished with the NHL's third-best record. A deep run seemed inevitable. Instead, the Preds were bounced in the first round and failed to win the first playoff series in team history for another four seasons.

This spring, with the worst record of the 16 playoff teams, the Preds have advanced to the first Stanley Cup final in team history.

How did they do it? Here are a few reasons:

Pekka Rinne

The 34-year-old has sizzled with a .941 save percentage in 16 post-season starts. He was especially superb against Chicago in the first round — stopping 123-of-126 shots — and then again more recently as the Preds closed out the Ducks in the Western Conference final.

Rinne, interestingly enough, hasn't always been the most effective playoff performer. He posted a less-than-impressive .906 save percentage in 14 games last year, including 12 goals against on 71 shots (.831) in the final three games of a second-round loss to San Jose.

The Finn had two special seasons (2010-2012) early in his career with Nashville — a Vezina trophy finalist in each — but was something closer to average after that. He's tied with Detroit's Jimmy Howard for the 18th best save percentage (.914) among goalies who started at least 200 games since the start of the 2012-13 season.

None of that matters now.

Defence

The engine of everything Nashville is a top-notch defence, fronted by the imposing four-some of P.K. Subban, Mattias Ekholm, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis — each of whom is averaging more than 24 minutes this spring.

"All of us like to skate and be part of the attack," Ellis said in describing the unit recently. "I think as a whole we pride ourselves on not only being great defensively, but being good offensively as well in helping our forwards out."

The Preds have gotten 11 goals and 42 points from the defence in these playoffs. But it's not only about offence as Ellis notes.

Nashville is an elite puck possession team, one that's held opponents to fewer than 30 shots and less than two goals against per-game during the playoffs.

Subban and Ekholm, in particular, managed to control the puck against the Ducks (53 per cent possession) while also neutralizing a previously-dominant Ryan Getzlaf. The Anaheim captain was held to a single assist in the last four games of the series and failed to score even once throughout the conference final.

Forsberg

Filip Forsberg has been pretty good for a while now with an average of 30 goals and 62 points in his first three full NHL seasons. He's added another eight goals and 15 points in 16 games in these playoffs, dominating with his speed, shot and skill against the Ducks.

Even-strength shot attempts were 109-75 for Nashville (59 per cent) when he was on the ice against Anaheim.

The Swede had a point in every game of the conference final and rides a seven-game point streak into the Cup final.

Depth

A must for any Cup contender, the Preds have found meaningful contributions from everywhere. Notable among them is Colton Sissons, who notched a hat trick in Game 6 against the Ducks and has five goals on 14 shots this spring. The former 2012 second-round pick has as many points (10) in 16 playoff games as he had in 58 during the regular season.

Selected 13 spots before Sissons in 2012 was Pontus Aberg, who scored the eventual Game 5 vs. Anaheim and posted a 56 per cent possession mark for the series. Then there's Austin Watson, a meat-and-potatoes former first-round pick who scored three in the last two games of the conference final. He's dished out a team-high 81 hits in the playoffs and blocked 21 shots.

Sixteen different players have scored for the Preds in the post-season, including fourth line tough guy Cody McLeod. Nashville notably closed out Anaheim without Ryan Johansen (done for the year with a hip injury), captain Mike Fisher or Kevin Fiala, an emerging former first-round pick.

Coaching

The Preds fired Barry Trotz, the only coach in franchise history to that point, after missing out on a second straight post-season in 2014.

Enter Peter Laviolette, who won a Cup with Carolina in 2006 and went to the Cup final with Philadelphia in 2010.

Pushing an up-tempo brand of hockey, Laviolette got Nashville back into the playoffs in his first season, into the second round in his second and into the first conference and Cup final for the franchise this spring.

"Our coaching staff has developed the philosophy that has allowed a lot of players' games to improve and really develop," Ellis said. "It's something we didn't really get so much before. Now it's more of a five-man attack and everyone contributing at both ends of the ice which has been instrumental for not only myself, but guys like Mattias, (Josi), and various different players."

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