They’re finally here: Predators reach the conference finals

This is all new ground, or new ice, for Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators. 

A long slump without a conference finals appearance has ended … but not for Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.

Nope. It’s the Nashville Predators.

The Predators came into existence during the 1998-99 season, and things didn’t start out so great. During the Predators’ first five seasons, they finished each year with a points percentage below .500. Among teams that played in each season of that five-year span, the only ones with worse records than the Predators (.434) were the Lightning (.393) and the Islanders (.423).

In fact, the Predators’ playoff struggles included …

• Not winning a playoff series until 2011, the team’s 12th season in the NHL.

• Posting five 100-point seasons and losing in the opening round in four of those years.

• Not winning a home playoff overtime game until 2016.

This was the Predators’ fourth attempt to reach the conference finals. In each of the previous three instances in the second round, the Predators lost in five (in 2012 to the Coyotes), six (in 2011 to the Canucks) and seven games (in 2016 to the Sharks).

Entering this season, only the Islanders (1993) and Panthers (1996) had completed more seasons since their most recent conference finals appearance.

According to research by the Elias Sports Bureau, the 18 completed seasons before the Predators’ first conference finals appearance rank as the third-most before a franchise’s first visit to the round before the Stanley Cup Final. The Arizona Coyotes played 32 seasons before the team reached the 2012 Western Conference Finals, and the Carolina Hurricanes played 23 seasons before they got to the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals.

The Coyotes (formerly the Winnipeg Jets) and Hurricanes (formerly the Hartford Whalers) each moved once before making a conference finals appearance.

Since the NHL returned from the season-long lockout during the 2005-06 season, the Predators are the fourth team to reach the conference finals after having the fewest points during the regular season among playoff teams in that conference. The others were the 2006 Oilers, 2010 Canadiens and 2012 Kings.

Thrice is nice

Predators coach Peter Laviolette is the second-winningest U.S.-born head coach in NHL history, behind John Tortorella. Laviolette and Tortorella have each won a Stanley Cup in their careers. But Laviolette has done something no American-born head coach has ever done: take three different teams to the conference finals since the advent of the round in 1982.

Laviolette previously made it with the Hurricanes when they won it all in 2006 and again in 2010, when he led the surprising Flyers from the 7-seed to the Cup finals, in which they lost to the Blackhawks.

Since 1982, Laviolette is one of seven coaches to take three different teams to the conference finals. The others were:

Mike Keenan: Flyers, Blackhawks and Rangers

Darryl Sutter: Blackhawks, Flames and Kings

Ken Hitchcock: Stars, Flyers and Blues

Jacques Lemaire: Canadiens, Devils and Wild

Jacques Demers: Blues, Red Wings and Canadiens

Pat Burns: Canadiens, Maple Leafs and Devils

Perfect Tenn

It’s been a mixed bag in the “conference finals” for the other pro teams in the state of Tennessee.

The Tennessee Titans have played twice on the road in the AFC Championship Game since they moved from Houston in 1997. The Titans won at the Jaguars in 1999 but lost on the road to the Raiders in 2002.

Much like the Predators, the Memphis Grizzlies have been in only one conference finals in their history, but they didn’t win a game as they were swept by the Spurs in 2013. Much like the Predators, the Grizzlies didn’t win their first playoff series until 2011, when they knocked out the Spurs. – NHL