Better Pred than dead

TODD SAELHOF -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 4:51 PM ET


 The Nashville Predators can hardly wait to sink their fangs into the 2004 NHL playoffs.

 After all, it's their first post-season foray since joining the league in 1998.

 "It is a new experience for us," said Predators head coach Barry Trotz, reminding the masses his club has been in playoff mode since the all-star break in early February.

 "And every day we look at it as a challenge and as a growing experience.

 "It's very important for our franchise as a unit, as a hockey team, as fans and as an organization to go through this. It's exciting for everybody. It's something our players have to experience how hard it is, how important it is, how to play in big games and how to respond."

 The Predators finished in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, clinching on the second-last day of the regular schedule.

 Because of it, their prize is a first-round series with the conference-best Detroit Red Wings, owners of 10 Stanley Cup titles, including three in the last seven years.

 "You can't worry about it too much -- that's the key," said David Legwand, the franchise's first entry draft pick.

 "You gotta go out there and have fun and win hockey games."

 They won 38 to post 91 points -- both franchise highs and a surprise to many considering the Preds never finished a season better than 34 wins and 80 points.

 "We expected to succeed. I think you have to expect it," Legwand said. "When you don't expect it, you're going to falter. And we don't want to falter, right now."

 Against the Red Wings, that's no easy task. But GM David Poile has helped them handle the pressure by adding some much-needed experience before the trade deadline.

 Forwards Steve Sullivan and Sergei Zholtok and defencemen Shane Hnidy and Brad Bombardir all boast playoff savvy to help guide a brash, young squad into its playoff premiere.

 "I like our room right now," Trotz said.

 "We've got a good blend and we've got some depth."

 Enough to upset the Red Wings?

 "No matter what happens," Trotz said, "it's something that this franchise and this team has to go through."


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