Turn up the music

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 1:10 PM ET

If you're in the media, and you cover a Western Conference hockey team, you're hoping against hope that they open the playoffs in Nashville - a top-five pick on anyone's list of road trip cities.

If you're the team that's being covered, a first round date with the plucky Preds isn't high on your wish list.

In other words, head coach Barry Trotz and general manager David Poile have something good going on in Music City - a great town and a scary little team to go with it.

"We're definitely aware that we're a popular destination,'' said Poile, who's also aware that in the eight years since he built the club from scratch they've become a not-so-popular opponent. "Everyone recognizes we have the potential to be a really good team. The next step for us is to prove we're a good team in the playoffs.''

They're coming out of a slide right now, having lost six of their last seven before beating St. Louis, a slump Barry Trotz blames on a late-season malaise. In 2004 they didn't get into the playoffs till Game 81. This year they've all but had it clinched since February.

"I think us and Buffalo were sort of caught in the same spot,'' said the only coach the Preds have ever known.

"We probably weren't going to catch the team ahead of us in the division and had some separation on the teams behind us, so a little bit of the urgency you need wasn't quite there.''

It's back now, with Anaheim breathing down their necks, threatening to steal away home-ice advantage in the first round. It's been such a good run for the Preds (following up their first playoff appearance with a year like this) and such an important time in their development, that they can't let the momentum slip through their fingers.

"We're still in our infancy in terms of becoming a strong hockey market, but being competitive last season, and what we've done so far this year, is helping,'' said Poile.

"Our crowds are up 2,000 a game this year. That's the good news. The bad news is we still have a long way to go because our base has been relatively low (10,000 range).''

"So there's no question the playoffs are important for us. They're a great way to attract fans ... We're counting on it.''

So are a lot of media guys. A playoff series in Nashville? Better pack an extra liver.

"It will be very similar to what happened in Calgary (with the Red Mile),'' said Trotz. "There would be tailgating. It would be a big festival out there. It would be crazy. When we played Detroit last season, a FOX Sports producer talked to us after the series and said he's done every major sporting event there is, in every major venue, and that's the first time a building actually shook and there was nothing he could do to steady the cameras. Just going out there gave you chills up your spine.''

Credit Poile and owner Craig Leopold for making inroads in a market where nobody gave hockey a chance. It's fashionable these days to clean house whenever a team sputters, but the Preds have stayed patient and true to the original plan. In their eight-year history, they've had one coach, one GM, one philosophy.

"We've had a game plan from the start,'' said Trotz. "The style of team we thought we'd need to sell in Nashville and a team that would be built for where the NHL was going. We had good vision that way.''

Poile knew it would be a challenge, but jumped at the opportunity to build something from the ground up.

"I thought it would be a unique experience,'' said the former Caps GM. "I had my ideas and game plan of what I wanted to do, and I knew that no matter how this franchise turned out, on or off the ice, I would have my handprints all over it - for good or for bad. Hopefully it's been a lot more good than bad.''

It has. "It's awesome to be here from Day 1 and see the results we're having now,' said Johnson. "Watching this team grow the way it has, it's been great to be a part of. I hope we're in for a long playoff run here.''

He's not alone.

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T'S TOP FIVE

TOP FIVE REASONS FOR TODD BERTUZZI'S LUKEWARM SEASON:

5 - Steve Moore never apologized for making him cry at that press conference.

4 - "It's not my fault Russia scored that power-play goal. I shouldn't have even been on the Olympic team.''

3 - "For the last time, my nickname is Bert, not Tooooooooooz. If you're going to chant when I touch the puck, get it right.''

2 - His instructional video, "Dumb Penalties: How and When to Take Them'' isn't selling.

1 - He'd rather sneak up on a playoff spot from behind.

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THEY SAID IT

- " I didn't have in my mind who we wanted to be the No. 1. And I still don't. If we're fortunate enough to get into the playoffs, I still won't.'' - Bolts coach John Tortorella on his goaltending situation.

- "I'll be wearing 16.'' - Leafs Darcy Tucker, when told that Buffalo might want retribution for his hit on Jochen Hecht.

- "He laughed. I don't think he believed me. But I don't think he's laughing anymore.'' - Teemu Selanne, who told Paul Kariya a few weeks ago that Anaheim would catch Nashville.

- "Let's put it this way. I look forward to the next one.'' - Bill Guerin, on what he thinks of the Stars' third jersey.

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T'S TEAM OF THE WEEK

C - DANIEL BRIERE (SABRES): Bookends his two-game suspension with three-point nights in three of four games.

LW - TEEMU SELANNE (DUCKS): A big-game player, leading their surge with 17 points in his last eight games.

RW - PATRICK ELIAS (DEVILS): A five-point night against Pitsburgh highlights a hot April in the Meadowlands.

LD - DION PHANEUF (FLAMES): Scoring points and laying people out on the stingiest team in the league.

RD - FRANCOIS BEAUCHEMIN (DUCKS): Giving the Ducks good minutes, plus-five and four points in three games

G - CRISTOBAL HUET (CANADIENS): Another world-beater comes out of nowhere. Where do they find these guys?

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T'S QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"I don't think it's any reason to go change everything and start sacrificing live animals.''

-- Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, after Buffalo lost eight of nine games.


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