NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Nashville Predators believe they learned a couple of important lessons in reaching the first Stanley Cup final in the franchise’s history.
Play at home as much as possible.
As the second wild-card team in the West, the Predators lost only once on home ice while winning the Western Conference, and their second loss in Nashville came in a painful Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final . Every game was a sellout with thousands piled outside watching on outdoor TV screens for some of the biggest parties Music City had ever seen.
Starting even one playoff series at home could be the boost that helps them hoist the Stanley Cup next June, so a higher seed is the first goal as the Predators open their first season as defending conference champs.
”That’s something as a group we have to remember,” center Ryan Johansen said. ”We had to scratch and claw all year to get ourselves into the playoffs and how difficult that was. It’s easy to forget. `Oh, we played in the finals, we’re one of the best teams.’ But that’s not the case.”
The Predators can help their goal of a better seed with a better start. They went 2-5-1 in October last season before finishing fourth in the Central Division with 94 points. Goaltender Pekka Rinne says they can’t assume they can pick up where they left off in June.
”Obviously, we’re going to try to carry that momentum at the start of the season, but we really can’t think that we played in the finals, so automatically now we are more ready to play or something like that,” Rinne said. ”We got to prove that again and really have to bear down in the beginning of the season and hopefully get off to a good start.”
Here are some things to know about the Predators who open the season Oct. 5 at Boston:
JOHANSEN’S CONTRACT: General manager David Poile gave Johansen the biggest contract ever handed out by the Predators with an eight-year, $64 million deal in July . Johansen tied for the team lead last season with 61 points, and he played even better in the postseason with 13 points in 14 games until being sidelined by acute compartment syndrome in his left thigh.
”Being injured and not being able to be out there and contribute gives me more motivation to have a good, healthy year and try to give myself a chance to play in that situation,” Johansen said of missing the Stanley Cup Final.
OTHER BIG DEAL: Poile was very busy this offseason keeping the young core of his team together. He signed Austin Watson to a three-year extension and locked up forward Viktor Arvidsson with a seven-year, $29.75 million deal . Arvidsson has to prove he’s not a one-year wonder after tying Johansen for the points lead with a career year featuring 31 goals and 30 assists.
NEW, OLD FACES: Anticipating the retirement of captain Mike Fisher , Poile also shored up his centers by signing Nick Bonino away from Pittsburgh with a four-year, $16.75 million deal. He also brought back a Nashville draft pick in veteran Scott Hartnell, who coach Peter Laviolette experimented with during the preseason by putting on the top line with Johansen and Filip Forsberg, who tied for the team-lead with 31 goals.
Bonino had surgery after signing with Nashville on the foot he broke during the Stanley Cup Final but expects to be ready for the season opener. His new teammates have been ribbing him about leaving the two-time Stanley Cup champs, but Bonino said he sees a similar hunger among the Predators as his second year in Pittsburgh.
”We wanted it that much more because you know what it feels like,” Bonino said of being so close to the Cup.
FILLING IN: Defenseman Ryan Ellis is expected to be out until at least Christmas or possibly 2018 recovering from offseason knee surgery needed after he was hurt during the Final. Poile traded for 6-foot-2 defenseman Alexei Emelin, and chemistry with All-Star P.K. Subban shouldn’t take much for the former Montreal teammates.
”He can create a lot of room and space out there for players on his own team because of the fact guys on the other team have to keep their head up when they’re out there with him,” Subban said.
BACKING UP RINNE: The Predators found their eventual successor to Rinne last season in Juuse Saros, and now the only question is how many more games they give the young goalie to keep Rinne rested and healthy.
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