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Stanley Cup final: Nashville Predators’ improbable play-off run ends in heartbreak

“It stings,” said Predators defenceman PK Subban following a 2-0 defeat to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6 on Sunday. “A lot of emotions, a lot of tears and there should be. Everybody cares and we obviously wanted to lift the cup this year but it didn’t happen.”

The Nashville Predators’ improbable run to the Stanley Cup final came to a heartbreaking close on Sunday as the Pittsburgh Penguins denied the gate-crashers of the 2017 NHL playoffs a shot at a fairy-tale finish.

The Predators entered the playoffs as the lowest seed in the Western Conference with 94 points and had a daunting road to the NHL’s championship round, one that few fans in Music City could realistically have expected they would reach.

But at some point while they eliminated top-seeded Chicago, division-winning Anaheim and a 99-point St Louis team, they developed a swagger about them and suddenly went from a group hoping to win a Stanley Cup to one expecting to win.

Even after dropping the first two games of the best-of-seven final to a Penguins team featuring some of the NHL’s most lethal scorers, Nashville stormed back to even the series but ran out of gas and were held scoreless the next two games.

“It stings,” said Predators defenseman PK Subban. “A lot of emotions, a lot of tears and there should be. Everybody cares and we obviously wanted to lift the cup this year but it didn’t happen.”

On their journey, the Predators captivated a city known more for honky tonk than hockey and one that had never before seen their team get beyond the midway point of the post-season.

So smitten were fans that a section of the city’s famous Broadway was closed for public viewing parties that saw the street jammed with fans clad in the team’s gold and blue colors.

The Predators proved a resilient bunch that found different ways to get wins, sometimes relying on their stellar goaltending to steal a game, other times it was a stingy defence or simply opportunistic scoring.

But on Sunday, facing elimination for the first time in their surprising post-season run, the Predators simply could not find a way to solve the Penguins.

In cruel fashion, the Predators’ heartbreak was compounded by a referee’s blown call that erased a potential game-changing goal in a tight, scoreless game early in the second period.

“We hate the result, but our guys gave a pretty good effort, and it’s difficult for us right now because our sights were set on winning the championship,” said Predators head coach Peter Laviolette.

“It’s difficult to think that we’re not playing tomorrow.”

The Predators made their NHL debut in the Music City in 1998 and had never been beyond the second round in nine previous play-off appearances.

They may not play in the most traditional of hockey markets but the latest play-off run suddenly has the fanbase, some who occasionally throw catfish onto the ice during games, expecting a winner rather than being content just to have a team.

“You never know when you’re going to get another opportunity,” said Predators goalie Pekka Rinne.

“The only thing I was thinking about was that cup and dreaming about that and playing for that. It’s tough to accept and tough to handle, but I’m really proud of this team.”

* Reuters

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Updated: June 12, 2017 04:00 AM

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