Banner Day: Preds Go For Conference Title

Posted at 10:29 PM, May 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-21 23:58:19-04

Walk into Bridgestone Arena and there is one banner hanging from the rafters. The gold and navy banner reads "Seventh Man," a tribute to the team's notoriously loud fans.

In 18 seasons, the Predators have never done anything on the ice worthy enough to give that banner company. Sure, the Preds have been a consistent playoff contender for over a decade now, but teams don't raise banners for good teams.

You have to be a champion to get a banner.

That opportunity will be in front of the Predators for the first time in their history Monday night in game six of the Western Conference Final. Beat the Ducks and that "7" banner will get company from a new banner that reads, "Western Conference Champions."

"The guys know what the next step is," Predators head coach Peter Laviolette said Sunday upon the team's return to Nashville. "It's going to be a hard fought game, so whatever pushes your buttons to realize where you're going to be at, if that's (motivation), that's a good way."

This has been the most exhilarating and gratifying playoff run in the team's history, and now this team has a chance to leave a lasting mark.

The Predators have never even won a division crown, a victim of playing in the toughest division in hockey and constantly running into juggernauts like the Blackhawks of recent years or the Red Wings before them. And until two weeks ago, the Preds had never made it out of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

So this team is in rarified air, and a series win against the Ducks would mean they would stay there, hanging in the rafters forever.

To raise the new banner, the Preds will rely heavily Monday on the people responsible for the one already hanging. The "Seventh Man" is comprised of 17,113 gold-clad fans that, fittingly, have been the biggest star of this postseason run, pumping up the volume to a level that's caught the NHL by astonishment and, at times, seemingly willing the team on.

"It's been a lot of fun," Predators forward Colin Wilson said. "These fans have been great to us, cheering us on, and we certainly want to get them wins."

The Predators had won 10 straight playoff home games dating back to last season before their game four overtime loss to the Ducks. That was the longest streak in the NHL in nearly two decades.

Now they just need to win one more to reach the Stanley Cup Final. But it won't be easy.

Ryan Johansen is out for the playoffs, as is Kevin Fiala. Mike Fisher's status remains unclear. That's three of the team's top 12 forwards that may not be available once again. The injuries mean this is not the same team that started the playoffs scorching hot and seemingly invincible.

They will now be an underdog against anyone they would face in the finals or, for that matter, in a game seven back in Anaheim.

But this is one game in front of the best home crowd advantage in sports today.

The Predators grinded out a gutsy win in game five on the road to reclaim home ice advantage and set this scenario up. They do not want to have to go back to California.

The Preds have grit and determination in spades. In game six, they hope a raucous crowd will give them wings to soar to new heights.

"Our fans our great. We'll need them tomorrow night," Laviolette said. "I'm sure it will be crazy down there."

It could be a banner day, and Smashville will be ready.