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Predators celebrate 1st Western Conference semis berth with eyes on the Cup

The Canadian Press
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Nashville Predators\' Nick Spaling (13), Shea Weber, left, and goalie Pekka Rinne, right, of Finland, celebrate after the Predators beat the Anaheim Ducks 4-2 in Game 6 of a first-round NHL Stanley Cup playoff hockey series, Sunday, April 24, 2011, in Nashville, Tenn. Spaling had two goals, including the go-ahead score. The Predators won the series 4-2. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Author: The Hockey News

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Predators celebrate 1st Western Conference semis berth with eyes on the Cup

The Canadian Press
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Nashville Predators are happy after winning their first playoff series in their sixth try, and they're also far from satisfied.

Nobody remembers who wins in the first round, defenceman Ryan Suter said, so there's no time for the young Predators to start celebrating.

"If we win the Stanley Cup, then sure," Suter said.

The small-market team in the non-traditional hockey market has bigger goals after being eliminated early in the playoffs six of the past seven seasons.

"Now we're making history," coach Barry Trotz said. "We're a young franchise that is trying to go deep."

Trotz gave the Predators the day off Monday following a physical and bruising opening series against the Anaheim Ducks. Nashville closed it out with a 4-2 win in Game 6 on Sunday and now has to wait to see if it will begin the Western Conference semifinals at Vancouver or Detroit.

These Predators, who went into the post-season as the West's No. 5 seed, are playing even better than they did in finishing off the regular season.

"Exciting for them. They've drafted great for a long time," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said Monday. "Every year, I hear Nashville has overachieved, and yet, when I see their lineup at the start of the year, I wonder how a team with Pekka Rinne in net, (Shea) Weber and Suter on the back end overachieved? To me, that seems to be like the best. Good for Trotz and those guys. (general manager) Dave Poile has done a good job."

Nashville closed the season with a flourish, averaging 3.33 goals in the final 15 games, and carried it over to the playoffs. It scored 22 goals in six games against Anaheim, and the only Predators who played in the series and didn't record a point were backup goalie Anders Lindback and defenceman Shane O'Brien.

The Predators got six points from Mike Fisher and five from captain Weber. They also got a career-best five points from Jordin Tootoo, who had assists on the winning goals in Games 5 and 6.

"We scored more goals in the series than we ever have and gave up more goals than we ever have," Trotz said. "So it was a totally different animal to slay if you will."

Trotz calls it the Predator way, and it certainly has worked for the franchise that still has the same coach and general manager that started the team that hit the ice in 1998-99. Poile has built Nashville mostly through the draft, with forward David Legwand, who capped Sunday's win with an empty-net goal, his first pick.

Poile's work in building this roster made him a finalist for general manager of the year.

The roster also features other draft picks, including Rinne, a Vezina Trophy finalist. Weber became a Norris Trophy finalist on Monday. Defenceman Jonathon Blum and forward Blake Geoffrion helped Nashville finish the season with the NHL's fifth-youngest active roster with an average age of 26 years, 140 days.

Poile also landed left wing Sergei Kostitsyn, brought in last off-season from Montreal, and O'Brien through trades. His biggest move came Feb. 10 when he sent his first-round pick this June and what will now be a third-round pick in 2012 to Ottawa for centre Fisher.

Trotz repeatedly has mentioned the local ownership group's support for making that deal happen.

"We don't even get in the playoffs without the commitment of getting Mike Fisher in this deal ... A lot of people say you have to do a little different than we do, but it's about winning for us," Trotz said. "It's not about salary caps. It's about winning, getting players here and getting the win. ... Players love to play here. This city is a fantastic city with a great fan base."

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AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Detroit contributed to this story.

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Predators celebrate 1st Western Conference semis berth with eyes on the Cup