NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The feelings of sorrow and disappointment were palpable in the Nashville Predators‘ locker room after losing Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final 2-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday night.
But despite losing the Cup Final in six games and falling just short of their ultimate mission, there were still plenty of positives the team’s players were taking from their lengthy playoff run.
Those positives will become more apparent as time passes. In the meantime, it was difficult for the Predators to get past the pain in the moments immediately following Game 6.
“You dream about lifting the Stanley Cup as a young kid,” defenseman P.K. Subban said. “Your dreams happen probably a million times for most of us. Being that close, being two games away, 120 minutes away from lifting the Stanley Cup, it sucks. For us, we did so many things well and this was such a tremendous run for our team. We have such a young team and I think we gained a ton of experience from this run.”
The Predators overcame plenty to win the Western Conference and advance to the franchise’s first Cup Final appearance. With a 41-29-12 record, they were the bottom seed among the 16 teams that qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Starting every series on the road, they also overcame injuries to some of their most important forwards, particularly top center Ryan Johansen and rookie wing Kevin Fiala.
“Sixteenth seed, we’re supposed to be out in the first round,” defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “Everybody wrote us off. This group believed in ourselves the entire playoffs no matter who we were playing. I think we learned a lot about each other and about ourselves and what we’re capable of. So next year we expect a lot from this group. It was a great ride.”
Lost in the crushing loss Sunday was the likelihood that this team’s best years could be ahead of it. With the exception of captain Mike Fisher, who is 37, and 34-year-old goaltender Pekka Rinne, the roster is quite young. Fiala, 20, and Johansen, 24, will be back next season to contribute to a team led by youth, most notably 20-somethings such as defensemen Subban, Ellis and Roman Josi, as well as forwards Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson and Colton Sissons.
“I think there’s so many good things that we learned as a group: how to play, how to come together as a team, believe in each other. I think there’s only positives that can come out of this,” Fisher said. “There’s obviously disappointment. Losing is never easy, but I think we learned a lot just as a group. A lot of lessons the guys will carry forward.”