Sweden will miss ‘everything’ about Zetterberg

SOCHI, Russia — “Everything.”

That’s what Henrik Lundqvist says Sweden will miss about Henrik Zetterberg.

Which, when you think about it, is quite a lot.

“Leadership,” Lundqvist went on. “His coolness in big moments. Big plays at both ends of the ice. It’s going to be tough to replace him. I don’t think you can.”

But the Swedes don’t have any choice but to go on without their captain. Zetterberg won’t play again in these Olympics; the 33-year-old has a herniated disc in his back.

“He is still suffering from his back injury and it is so painful for him that he can’t be in it any more. It is Z who has taken this decision together with me,” team doctor Bjorn Waldeback said. “I think it is the cumulative load. There was no specific thing that happened in [Wednesday’s game versus the Czech Republic]. The issues came the morning after. These are nerve-related issues and they often come creeping in. It is not one specific injury.”

The injury is a massive blow to a team that came into the Games with many picking it to win gold. Sweden was already without Henrik Sedin, who didn’t make the trip to Russia because of a rib injury. Nicklas Backstrom is all that’s left now of its top three centers.

“His presence all over the ice, defense and offense,” forward Daniel Alfredsson said when asked what Zetterberg brings to a team. “It’s incredible. He can set the pace of the game. It’s a tough blow for us. It’s something we have to deal with. We all feel for him. But now we have to replace him and move forward. We can’t sit and dwell on this, but it’s sad.”

Friday at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, it was Alfredsson who stepped up and scored with 7:21 remaining to give Sweden a 1-0 victory over Switzerland. The result just as easily could’ve been a loss, however, with Lundqvist needing to be excellent, particularly at the outset.

“They were all over us the first 10 minutes of the game,” Lundqvist said. “They had so much speed. But then we settled things down. Second half of the first period we started to take over the game. In the second and third I thought we played really well and controlled the game well.”

On one occasion in the first, Lundqvist robbed Switzerland’s Denis Hollenstein with a right pad save.

“It was a panic save,” he said. “It was just a reaction save, kind of lucky that I had time to come back.”

Lundqvist made 26 saves for the shutout, half of them in the first. Sweden righted itself and outshot Switzerland 26-13 in the second and third periods.

“If we can play like we did today for 40 minutes, we’ve got a chance (to win gold)”, said forward Daniel Sedin. “But we need to tighten up defensively, that’s going to be our only chance. We can’t play the run and gun.”

Certainly, there’s still much to like about the Tre Kronor. Lundqvist, for one. There’s also its deep, mobile blue line featuring talented youngsters Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, plus veteran presence Niklas Kronwall. And even minus two elite centers, there remains plenty of ability up front, with the likes of Backstrom, Sedin, Alfredsson, Alexander Steen, Loui Eriksson, Gabriel Landeskog, and Zetterberg’s replacement in the top six, Patrik Berglund.

“It’s tough for us, but we feel we have depth to step up,” said Alfredsson. “And Patrik Berglund played solid for us today, and going forward he’s going to be a big piece.”

At the same time, for all the talk of depth and stepping up, the Swedes’ gold-medal hopes have taken a hit. That’s just being realistic. And coming to any less of a conclusion would be to understate the importance of Zetterberg, something his teammates clearly aren’t willing to do.

Video: Johansen, Fisher join in Predators’ conference title celebration

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After reaching their first ever Western Conference Final, the Nashville Predators topped that in a big way, advancing to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.

There were a lot of firsts and rarities along the way.

In ousting the Anaheim Ducks with a 6-3 victory in Game 6, GM David Poile’s team advanced to the championship round for the first time in his lengthy time as an executive.

Peter Laviolette also became the fourth coach in NHL history to bring three different teams to a Stanley Cup Final. The Predators are also the first 16th seed to make it this far.

Yep, that’s a long list of milestones (and not a comprehensive one). And, to think, the Predators haven’t even been on the brink of elimination during the postseason yet.

It’s special stuff, so don’t be surprised by the boisterous celebration you can see in the video above this post’s headline.

P.K. Subban: No city in the NHL ‘has anything on Nashville’

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If there’s one thing we can agree upon about the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s that these months have really cemented just how hockey-mad Nashville has become for its Predators.

(Yes, you can call it “Smashville” if you’d like.)

The scene at Bridgestone Arena was as boisterous as ever in the Predators’ 6-3 Game 6 win against the Anaheim Ducks, with legions of fans packing and surrounding the building.

Sights like these have becoming resoundingly normal for a hockey market that was once questioned by media and other fan bases:

Yeah, wow.

As the Predators advanced to their first-ever Stanley Cup Final, plenty of people were making jokes at the expense of the Montreal Canadiens for trading P.K. Subban. Of course, Subban wouldn’t take a shot at the Habs during such a great moment, but his praise for puck-nutty Predators fans says a lot in itself.

“I played in an A+ market my whole career,” Subban said, via Jeremy K. Gover of the Nashville Predators Radio Network. “There’s not a city in the league that has anything on Nashville.”

Whether their opponent is the Pittsburgh Penguins or Ottawa Senators, we already know that Nashville will begin the Stanley Cup Final on the road. That’s OK … Predators fans might need some time to get their voices back and recover from celebrating, so waiting until Games 3 and 4 might be a blessing in disguise.

Ducks’ Cogliano just doesn’t think Predators were the better team

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The Anaheim Ducks battled their way to Game 6 of the Western Conference Final, but Colton Sissons and the Nashville Predators ended their season on Monday.

The Ducks are processing that disappointment – being just two wins away from a trip to the championship round – and some of their reactions might spark a little controversy.

Specifically, it sounds a bit like Bruce Boudreau believing that his Minnesota Wild were superior to the St. Louis Blues despite falling in that series.

Andrew Cogliano, it must be noted, was spurned by Pekka Rinne on some early chances in Game 6. He likely feels as frustrated as any Ducks player right now.

Sisson’s hat-trick goal, making it 4-3 before two empty-netters cemented the 6-3 finish, was the dagger that finally put the hard-working Ducks down.

One can understand some of those feelings from Anaheim, especially considering the frustration of a) getting over Jonathan Bernier‘s early struggles to make a very real game of this and b) occasionally carrying the play in a dramatic way, including in Game 6.

Still, the Predators got the right combination of great stretches of play from Rinne and strong work from the expected and the unexpected, such as Sissons.

For an aging star like Ryan Getzlaf – a player who produced some of his best work late in the season and during the playoffs – you have to wonder how many chances remain.

Predators eliminate Ducks, reach first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history

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Colton Sissons made a serious argument that the Nashville Predators do, indeed, still have a No. 1 center.

At least, he certainly played that way on Monday, generating a hat trick as the Predators eliminated the Anaheim Ducks via a 6-3 win, taking the series 4-2.

In doing so, the Predators advanced to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.

That 6-3 score is very misleading. While Nashville managed 2-0 and 3-1 leads, there was plenty of drama in this one, as the Ducks did not go down easily. Cam Fowler tied it up 3-3 in the third period, briefly stunning a rowdy crowd in Nashville.

Sissons was up to the task, however, settling down a bouncing puck on an otherwise stupendous Calle Jarnkrok pass to score the game-winner, notching a hat trick in the process. Sissons continues to be an unlikely hero for a Predators team dealing with the absence of Ryan Johansen (not to mention Mike Fisher, Craig Smith, and others).

Two empty-netters inflated the score, and they also sapped drama from the closing moments, which must have been quite the relief considering how much resolve Anaheim showed.

Peter Laviolette distinguishes himself as one of the NHL’s most underrated bench bosses, becoming just the fourth coach in league history to take three different teams to a Stanley Cup Final. He couldn’t win it all with the Philadelphia Flyers, but he does have a ring thanks to his time with the Carolina Hurricanes. Perhaps he’ll take another one this spring?

It’s quite the moment for GM David Poile, too, after trading Shea Weber for P.K. Subban and Seth Jones for Johansen, among other pivotal moves.

The Ducks might wonder what could have been if John Gibson played instead of Jonathan Bernier. Bernier struggled early, allowing two goals on the first three shots he faced and generally having a tough Game 6. Pekka Rinne, meanwhile, maintained his mostly great run in the playoffs; he protected a Predators lead even when the Ducks dominated long stretches of play.

Now the Predators get a nice rest, as the Eastern Conference Final continues with a Game 6 on Tuesday (and possibly a Game 7 on Thursday).

They’ll limp a bit toward that final round, but the Predators seem to be embracing new territory. And sometimes new heroes.