The eyes of the hockey world will be on the Predators as they make their Stanley Cup Final debut Monday at 7 p.m. against the defending champion Penguins.
What the youthful Preds lack in experience on hockey's biggest stage against a team that's reached the sport's final series four times now since 2008, they hope they can make up with enthusiasm and the drive to become great themselves.
"It's our first taste and most of those guys have been here multiple times," Predators center Colton Sissons said. "Hopefully that hunger will help push us past the defending champs."
The Penguins have won the Stanley Cup four times total, twice since 2009. Nearly all of this team was around last year when they hoisted the Cup after defeating the Sharks in six games.
But players say they're drive to win remains strong with the opportunity to make history as the first repeat champion since the Red Wings accomplished the feat in 1997-98.
"We understand how hard it is to get here, it's not easy," Penguins forward Phil Kessel said at Sunday's Media Day. "It's a battle and you may never get back here. We want to win."
Both sides caution that regardless of the stakes, it has to become just another hockey game once the puck drops. The challenge for the Preds is making sure they contain the nerves and emotions likely to accompany them onto the ice and get into the flow of the game as fast as they can.
The confident Predators have been on a mission all postseason, undeterred by having the lowest seed in the Western Conference, never having home ice advantage of experts' predictions. Despite a lack of experience entering the playoffs on a team that had never made it past the second round in it's history, they've made it this far, so why would that lack of experience doom them now?
"We may not have finals experience, but this group has grown with experience starting back a couple years ago," Predators head coach Peter Laviolette said. "I don't feel like we're completely naked and void of experience. As you grow you have to take on those new experiences as well, and that's where we are today."
FISHER, SMITH AND HORNQVIST READY TO GO
Predators' Captain Mike Fisher and forward Craig Smith both took part in the team's optional morning skate Monday, and are both expected to be in the lineup for game one.
Fisher was cleared to return to action late last week after being knocked out of game four against the Ducks and missing the final two games of that series.
Smith has played just one game since leaving game three of the Chicago series with a lower body injury, but, of healthy, provides an extra dose of speed to the Preds' attack against the speedy Penguins.
Pittsburgh will also have one of it's top players back in the lineup in game one. Veteran forward Patric Hornqvist will Play after missing the last half of the Eastern Conference Final with an upper body injury.
Hornqvist, who was drafted by the Predators and played for six seasons in Nashville, has four goals in the playoffs.
FORSBERG STEPS UP BIG
The Penguins boast two of the biggest stars on the planet in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The dynamic center duo has combined for 14 goals and 30 assists in the playoffs.
But the Predators have a budding superstar of their own in top line wing Filip Forsberg. The 22-year-old Swede leads the team with eight postseason goals and has posted a NHL-best plus-17 rating in the playoffs.
"He's really shown himself as somebody who wants to be at the front of the rope pulling it," Laviolette said. "He is a leader on this team, he is a difference maker on this team and somebody we count on."
Forsberg's leadership has been evident as he's taken his game to even another level as the playoffs have gone along. He's in the midst of a seven-game point streak dating back to the clinching game of round two against the Blues. During that span, he's scored five goals and handed out three assists.
The pressure is on Forsberg to continue his torrid pace against the Penguins. The Predators lost top line center Ryan Johansen, the team's leading scorer in the playoffs, to a freak leg injury during game four of the Anaheim series. It's now up to Forsberg to produce saddled with new linemates on hockey's biggest stage.
"You obviously want to help the team in the biggest games, and obviously there's no bigger stage than the Stanley Cup," Forsberg said. "At the same time, whether I score or somebody else scores it doesn't matter at the end of the night as long as we win."