The Predators can topple a hurdle of frustration in round one by beating the Blackhawks and announcing themselves as a legit Stanley Cup contender. But if they don't, the 2016-17 season will go down as one of the most disappointing in franchise history.
That's the situation the Predators, a team many picked as the favorite in the Western Conference to start the season, find themselves after finishing eighth in the regular season and drawing the Blackhawks in the first round.
It's also a credit to how the franchise has raised expectations in recent seasons. In less than two decades the Preds have gone from expansion team to one of the most consistent teams in hockey, reaching the playoffs in 10 of the last 13 seasons.
But they've only won three playoff series, and last year's series win over Anaheim signaled a clear turn in the expectations both within the locker room and around Nashville. The Predators nearly toppled the Sharks in round two, extending that series to seven games.
This was supposed to be the year Nashville took the next step. Young stars like Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson have playoff experience, the Preds boast one of the best defensive groups in the league and have a solid goaltender in Pekka Rinne.
For some reason it just didn't materialize in the regular season with Nashville spending it's time fighting for a Wild Card spot and not a division title.
Ultimately, this season will be judged on what they do in the playoffs and the Predators believe they can still make this year special.
They have the talent and depth to beat the Blackhawks in this series, and anyone else they might face in the playoffs, if they can put it all together.
The Hawks certainly have noticed. Head coach Joel Quenneville said Thursday that this Preds team is better than past editions because of its improved depth.
Well, at least it should be. The Hawks beat the Preds in four of five meetings this season, scoring five goals in three of those meetings. Chicago is the clear favorite.
But the Predators can change everyone's perception of them in this series. Beat the Blackhawks and it's no longer an underachieving year.
A series victory would push the Preds into round two and announce them as the contender many thought they could be. The win over the NHL's most successful recent franchise would also validate Nashville's continuing ascension into an elite franchise.
It all stands right in front of them. We'll see what happens.