ST. LOUIS — The Nashville Predators faced the reality Thursday that they will have to play the rest of the playoffs without left winger Kevin Fiala, who sustained a broken left leg on Wednesday night in their series opener against the St. Louis Blues.
“Kev was playing so well for us,” Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis told NHL.com. “He became a dominant player on the ice, and it’s a big loss for our team. It hurts right now, hurts for Kev, too, but we have to move forward. He’s going to be missed for sure, but we have to find a way to get past it.”
The Predators will try to do that starting Friday night, when they take on the Blues in Game 2 of the Western Conference second-round series, trying to stay undefeated in this year’s postseason.
After sweeping the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, the eighth-seeded Predators won Game 1 against the Blues 4-3 on Wednesday. Nashville got a goal and two assists from P.K. Subban and the game-winning goal from Vernon Fiddler with 5:05 left in the third period.
Colin Wilson also scored for the Predators in his first game of the postseason, having missed the Chicago series because of a lower-body injury, and he likely must play a major role if the team is going to overcome the loss of Fiala.
Wilson led the Predators in playoff points a year ago, when they lost in the second round to the San Jose Sharks. They are trying to advance to the first Western Conference finals in franchise history.
“He’s awesome in the playoffs,” Ellis said of Wilson. “He’s been good for us all year, so he’s adapted to his role on the team, and he’s one of the guys we lean heavily on. Now losing Kev, we’re going to rely on him even more than ever.”
Wilson does not believe he will be able to carry the load alone.
“Throughout the year, I think we’re a little bit inconsistent, but when we played our game, we were always unstoppable,” Wilson told NHL.com. “We have a lot of talent, great D, great goaltending, all-around strong team with a lot of depth. Watching them was fun, but being a part of it is a lot better.”
The Blues saw ways they can be better after the Game 1 loss, primarily by avoiding penalties that helped put them in a 3-1 hole in the second period. Two of the Predators’ goals came on power plays.
“They put us on our heels, put us behind, created a lot of momentum,” St. Louis goalie Jake Allen said. “When we didn’t have to kill any penalties, it changed the game. I thought we played really well five-on-five.”
That performance did not result in a win, however, which is becoming a problem on home ice for the Blues. They are now 1-2 at home this season, compared to a 3-0 record on the road.
“We have to be better at home,” Blues coach Mike Yeo said. “We put ourselves in a tough position by not coming out and putting our best game in front of us (in Game 1). We have to be a little more focus and committed to playing a 60-minute game. For me, this time of year, you should definitely feel some momentum and energy from your crowd.
“There were some things (Wednesday) we can build off, things we certainly learned about their team and things we need to do to be successful.”
TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that even Darling’s representatives didn’t see it coming.
But it did indeed happen, as the Hurricanes sent a third-round pick in 2017 to Chicago for Darling. It sounds like the Blackhawks were going to part ways with Darling one way or another, so they get a decent pick for their trouble.
Darling is scheduled to be a UFA this summer, so the Hurricanes must believe that they can sign a goalie Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman described as “always reliable.”
The Hurricanes could have chosen to keep Darling in their organization, but apparently he didn’t make a huge first impression during this opportunity:
“Reliable” might honestly be selling Darling, 28, a little short. In 75 regular season games, he generated a fantastic .923 save percentage and even excelled when called upon in the playoffs.
With the Hurricanes’ mess in net in mind, you have to credit GM Ron Francis & Co. for being proactive … assuming they can sign Darling to a reasonable deal.
P.K. Subban certainly made his presence felt to begin the Predators’ series vs. the Blues. Leon Draisaitl stole the spotlight in helping the Oilers beat the Ducks in their Game 1. Who will step up in Game 2 of each series? We’ll find out soon.
Here’s what you need to know:
Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues (Preds lead 1-0)
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)
Edmonton Oilers vs. Anaheim Ducks (Oilers lead 1-0)
Time: 10:30 p.m. ET
Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)
Keep an eye on Swedish forward Victor Ejdsell in the coming days.
Ejdsell, 21, caught the eye of several NHL clubs following a standout year with Bofors of the Swedish first division — including Detroit (where he visited earlier this week, per MLive.) Reports suggest that Chicago and Nashville are also interested in securing Ejdsell’s services.
It’s easy to see why.
He racked up 25 goals and 57 points in 60 games this year, and he’s got terrific size. At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, the physical presence is there to potentially make the shift to the NHL next season.
“He’s evolved into a strong two-way center,” Detroit assistant GM Ryan Martin told MLive. “His move from wings to center helped his defensive game. He’s got good hands and offensive ability.”