Mike Fisher admits he used to take the post-season for granted. In fairness to him, it would have been hard not to. When he broke into the league in 1999-00 with the Ottawa Senators, the franchise was riding a three-season playoff streak and he saw the playoffs in each of the next seven years of his career. And in 2006-07, he and the Senators made it all the way to the Stanley Cup final.
The Senators lost that series in five games to the Anaheim Ducks. That was a decade ago, and while Fisher’s been to the post-season since, he hasn’t seen playoff action beyond the second round. There’s been no battles for conference supremacy, no trips to the final and, with the clock ticking on his career, he hasn’t for the Stanley Cup since.
“You think you have a lot of years,” Fisher said. “All of a sudden, you know, I’m 36 now and still don’t have a Cup. I think it makes you want it that much more knowing that you never know when you’ll get a chance to play (for the Cup). That’s why I want to make the playoffs really bad this year, and hopefully we can do it.”
Luckily for Fisher, making the playoffs for the Predators shouldn’t be an uphill battle. With 16 games remaining in their season, they’ve got a three point edge on the St. Louis Blues for the final seed in the Central Division and are six points clear of the nearest wild-card team. It’s not a lock yet, of course, but barring a monumental collapse, Nashville’s set to make the post-season for the third straight campaign. After first-round and second-round exits in successive years, though, you won’t find many who are all that comfortable prognosticating a Predators’ trip to the Stanley Cup final.
Before the season, when the addition of P.K. Subban was still fresh in everyone’s mind, that may have been the case. But the start to Nashville’s season was ugly and they sat outside of a playoff spot as 2016 turned to 2017. In the months since, however, the Predators have started to turn it on. Since Jan. 1, Nashville has gone 16-10-4, good for 36 points. But it’s not so much the Predators’ record as the competition that gives pundits pause.
The Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks are the two presumptive favorites in the West, and in order for Nashville to fight their way to the conference final, the road is likely going to have to go through one of the two divisional foes. It’s not a series many would give the Predators a chance in. Fisher acknowledges that, but he has faith in Nashville’s potential to pull off an upset.
“There are so many great teams, and I think everyone feels that once you get into the playoffs, you have the chance to win,” Fisher said. “I feel like we’re right there. I don’t think we’re overly concerned about what people think.”
Fisher will no doubt play a major role in how far the Predators go, as his resurgent 16-goal, 38-point season in his first campaign as Nashville’s captain has been a big part of the team’s success. More so, however, it will be the play of the youth that could decide Nashville’s fate, specifically that of Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson. Forsberg, who has 12 goals and 17 points in the past month, has been one of the league’s hottest scorers, while Arvidsson has chipped in eight goals and 12 points of his own. The game is a different beast come the playoffs, but Fisher said last season’s run, which ended in a seven-game defeat at the hands of the eventual Western Conference champion San Jose Sharks, can be a positive this time around.
“I think the experience of last year’s playoffs will help,” Fisher said. “We had a lot of guys the past couple years who haven’t played many playoff games at all, because of our youth.”
Fisher’s right on the money, too. The Predators entered the post-season with 475 total playoff games among their players in 2015-16, the fourth-lowest total of the 16 playoff teams. The only team in the Western Conference with fewer was the St. Louis Blues, and that was by a mere one game. This time around, though, Nashville will enter with a combined 623 playoff games and an extra boost from the deadline.
The hope now is that everything comes together as the season comes to a close. Fisher said on a personal level, his goal is to simply finish the year as strong as he started. That will likely see him close out the campaign with his seventh 20-goal season and put him in line to finish with his highest point total since the 2013-14 season. On a team basis, though, he hopes he’s not the only one firing all cylinders when mid-April comes around.
“You just have to play good hockey at the right time,” Fisher said. “You look at L.A. a few years back. They finished hot, finished in eighth, and they go on to win the Cup. You never know.”
You do never know, and maybe this can be the Predators’ year. But the one thing that’s for certain is that Fisher’s no longer in a place where he’s going to take this chance for granted.
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