The Predators (47-21-8), who have 102 points and lead the Central Division, have been one of the most surprising teams in the NHL this season. Nashville missed the playoffs each of the past two seasons after making the postseason in seven of eight seasons.
Here are five reasons the Predators clinched:
1. Rinne's return
Goaltender Pekka Rinne missed 51 games with a hip infection in the 2013-14 season, and the Predators missed the playoffs by three points. Rinne's return to the lineup has given Nashville a game-changing player who is a contender for the Vezina Trophy.
Rinne is 41-15-4 with a 2.10 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in 60 games. His height (6-foot-5) and athleticism make him one of the most difficult goalies to face in the NHL. He's on pace to surpass his career high of 43 wins, set in the 2011-12 season.
The Predators made several additions during the offseason, but the most important difference from last season to this season has been Rinne's health.
2. Force of Forsberg
Rookie forward Filip Forsberg has been Nashville's most dynamic player this season and is one of the favorites for the Calder Trophy.
Forsberg is tied for the Predators lead with 23 goals and tied for the lead with 59 points. After a recent slump when he had three points in 15 games, Forsberg has six points in his past six games and regained the NHL rookie lead in points.
Forsberg spent 13 games with the Predators in 2013-14 but struggled to produce consistently because of injury. He spent the majority of last season with the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League, which he credited to helping his development. Forsberg has responded in Nashville and arguably has been their most consistent forward.
"It's never easy when you're in your first year and playing against guys that might be 10 or 15 years older than you, playing against men," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "You're just learning everything, especially for the amount that we count on him and we rely on him. It's a challenge for young players, and I think he's done a really good job of handling that."
3. Dynamite defense
Shea Weber has been among the NHL's elite defensemen for years, but defense partner Roman Josi has joined him this season. Josi leads the Predators in average time on ice with 26:26 per game and his 53 points are the most by a defenseman.
Nashville's young, mobile defense has been a strength all season; the Predators allow 2.34 goals per game, fourth in the NHL. Four of the six defensemen who are regularly in the lineup are 24 years old or younger (Josi, 24; Ryan Ellis, 24; Mattias Ekholm, 24; Seth Jones, 20).
The defense also played a big role in Nashville's offense. Josi and Ekholm (17 points) have had career years offensively, and Weber is one of the most dangerous weapons in the League from the point with his slap shot. Nashville's defensemen have been given the green light to join the rush when they see an opportunity, which adds to the attacking style of play.
4. Laviolette's leadership
Laviolette was hired by the Predators after they parted with longtime coach Barry Trotz after last season. Laviolette implemented an aggressive, attacking style of play that has made the Predators more dynamic offensively.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Laviolette's approach is that he's been able to add an offensive style without taking away from the strong defense that's been a staple in Nashville.
Laviolette has a knack for knowing the right buttons to push. He hasn't been afraid to change up the lines, even during a game, when things aren't going well. Laviolette's passion for the game has resonated with his players, and they, like forward Colin Wilson (career-high 20 goals and 21 assists), have thrived.
Laviolette is a contender for the Jack Adams Award given to the NHL coach of the year.
5. Ribeiro's resurgence
Predators general manager David Poile took a chance when he signed veteran center Mike Ribeiro last summer and that risk has paid off. Ribeiro is tied for the Predators lead with 59 points and has played in all 76 games.
Ribeiro was bought out of the remaining three years of his contract by the Arizona Coyotes after last season and reached out to Poile during the offseason.
Ribeiro's 44 assists are in the top 15 in the League, and his playmaking ability has given Nashville a No. 1 center that has been missing from the lineup in the past few seasons.
Some of Forsberg's success can be attributed to Ribeiro. They have spent the majority of the season on the same line, and Ribeiro's ability to give Forsberg good looks with the puck has been valuable.