Calle Jarnkrok

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

23 Comments

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.

‘Nothing’s going to be easy’ for the Preds, especially after the loss of Ryan Johansen

7 Comments

The oddsmakers didn’t give the Nashville Predators much of a chance when the Stanley Cup playoffs began last month.

The Predators were considered one of the long shots to win it all, at 25/1, according to Bovada. No big surprise, given they were the second wild card team in the West and facing the No. 1 seed Chicago Blackhawks — also the favorites to win the championship when the playoffs began — in the opening round.

Since then, the Predators have swept the Blackhawks and advanced past the St. Louis Blues to make the Western Conference Final for the first time in franchise history.

They have played relentless hockey, backed for the most part by great goaltending from Pekka Rinne, an elite and productive group of defensemen, particularly Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm, and a top line of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson. Those seven players have combined for 71 points, which accounts for a substantial majority of Nashville’s offensive production.

On Thursday, the Predators fell one goal short of putting the Anaheim Ducks on the brink of elimination and moving within one win of the Stanley Cup Final. On Friday, the series shifted back to Anaheim tied at 2-2. On the surface, that’s not a bad position for the Predators to find themselves in.

However, Nashville’s Stanley Cup hopes were dealt a massive blow, with news that Johansen underwent emergency thigh surgery and is now done for the playoffs. Just like that, the Predators’ top center and playoff points leader removed from the lineup. Making matters worse is the fact captain Mike Fisher, who still doesn’t have a point in these playoffs, was also hurt Thursday. There was no update on his status the following day.

The Predators were already facing depth issues at center with Johansen out. If Fisher can’t play Saturday, it only adds to the current problem. It’s been widely suggested that if Johansen AND Fisher are both out, Calle Jarnkrok could be put into the No. 1 center spot.

Jarnkrok had a decent regular season with 15 goals and 31 points in 81 games. But he has only two points in 13 games during these playoffs and only five points in 33 career post-season games. His production has been a far cry from that of Johansen, who leads the team with 2.68 points per 60 minutes in these playoffs and a player for which most of the offense funnels through.

Others will need to step up. James Neal has five goals and seven points, but more will likely be asked of him with Johansen out. Colin Wilson has in the past emerged as an offensive threat — at least during the playoffs, anyway — but so far has only three points in 10 games this year.

If their offensive attack is limited without Johansen, it may put the spotlight back on the play of Rinne, their goalie. His play was sensational, bordering on out-of-this-world versus the Blackhawks. He posted a save percentage of .976 in that opening-round sweep, and it would be unrealistic to demand he sustain that for an entire playoff run.

He has still played well at times in this series, but the Ducks have also been able to find success. Rinne’s save percentage in four games sits at .911. The Predators may need him to be as close to perfect as possible the rest of the way.

Injuries occur to every team during the playoffs. Look no further than the Pittsburgh Penguins, still alive in the East, as a perfect example. They haven’t had their top defenseman — and one of the best in the league — in Kris Letang for the entire playoff, and have also dealt with a plethora of injuries, including to Sidney Crosby for one game, as this spring has continued.

“Nothing’s going to be easy,” Neal told reporters on Friday. “That’s why it’s the hardest trophy to win in sports.”

A few hours later, the hockey world learned the Predators would have to try to complete this already daunting task without their top center.

Predators’ Johansen done for playoffs after emergency thigh surgery

43 Comments

Nashville’s Stanley Cup chances were dealt a crushing blow on Friday.

Per Sportsnet, No. 1 center and leading scorer Ryan Johansen suffered a season-ending thigh injury during last night’s OT loss. The ailment will require surgery and 2-3 months of recovery following the procedure.

Update: Nashville released a statement confirming the initial Sportsnet report. The Preds added that Johansen underwent emergency surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and that the procedure was successful.

Johansen, 24, was averaging 20:46 TOI per night through 14 playoff games and, as mentioned, led all Preds with 13 points.

It’s unclear when Johansen’s injury occurred. He played nearly 28 minutes last night, his highest TOI of the playoffs, and was taking regular shifts in overtime, his last coming just before Corey Perry scored the winner midway through the extra session.

Prior to the injury, Johansen had been engaged in an ongoing battle with Anaheim center Ryan Kesler. He took Kesler to task after being hounded throughout Game 2.

“I don’t know how you cheer for a guy like that,” Johansen said. “It just doesn’t make sense how he plays the game. I’m just trying to go out there and play hockey and it sucks when you’ve got to pull a stick out of your groin every shift.”

With Johansen out, Nashville is facing some serious issues down the middle. Veteran center Mike Fisher left last night’s game with an undisclosed injury, and there’s been no update on his status. If Fisher joins Johansen on the sidelines, Calle Jarnkrok could be Nashville’s No. 1 center on Saturday night.

Predators, Ducks ‘only going to get escalated from here’ as series shifts to Smashville

2 Comments

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Nashville Predators finally are facing their first real adversity this postseason, with the Anaheim Ducks eager to push, hit and poke them out of what’s already been a historic run.

The Predators insist they can play that game too — and keep their cool no matter what pesky Ducks center Ryan Kesler does.

Nashville center Ryan Johansen vented his frustration at how Kesler plays after the Ducks rallied twice in pulling out a 5-3 win Sunday night that tied the Western Conference finals at a game apiece. Johansen said he didn’t know how anyone could cheer for a guy like that constantly prodding and poking. Each picked up a penalty, with Johansen high-sticking Kesler off a faceoff.

“That’s playoffs written all over it,” Predators forward Colton Sissons said Monday. “Obviously, there’s some bad blood there, and they’ve been competing hard and battling all series. It’s only going to get escalated from here.”

Johansen wasn’t among the Predators who spoke once they landed in Nashville. After the game, he said he just has to focus on his game. Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said he hadn’t heard or read Johansen’s complaint about Kesler but defended his 24-year-old center.

“I can tell you that I just saw him on the plane, and he’s composed,” Laviolette said. “I saw him on the ice last night, and he’s composed. He’ll be ready to play.”

How much Kesler has gotten under Johansen’s skin and whether the 32-year-old veteran can shake the anchor of Nashville’s top line remains to be seen. The Chicago Blackhawks were unable to disrupt the Predators during their first-round sweep, and St. Louis won twice on home ice by drawing penalties in a series the Predators finished in six games.

So far, the Predators have matched the Ducks nearly hit for hit and still have the home-ice advantage in this series.

Game 3 is Tuesday night in Nashville, where the Predators have won nine straight playoff games dating to last year, including a league-best 5-0 this postseason. The streak started in Game 6 of their first-round win over the Ducks after Anaheim took both Games 3 and 4, outscoring the Predators 7-1.

That is why the Ducks feel pretty comfortable heading to Music City after avoiding an 0-2 deficit for a second straight series. They also have a 4-1 road record after sweeping Calgary and winning twice in Edmonton .

“We believe that we can go in any building and play with the teams that we’re up against and give ourselves a chance for success,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. “I’m not saying we’re going to have success, I’m just saying we can give ourselves a chance for success.”

For some Ducks, this will be their first chance at hearing just how loud Bridgestone Arena is in the playoffs.

“I’ve seen games on TV and played there in the regular season,” said Nick Ritchie, a 21-year-old forward. “They’ll have a pretty big crowd, obviously. We’ve been a good team on the road. We’re just going in there and going to try to take care of business.”

That means crunching the Predators whenever possible, a style the Ducks play very well. That includes Jared Boll, who had only three points in 51 games during the regular season but has played each of the first two games against Nashville. The 6-foot-3 forward has three combined hits throwing his big body around, including a big check on Calle Jarnkrok in the opener.

The Predators also have been physical, and defenseman P.K. Subban said he thinks they’ve been doing a good job so far, particularly Johansen. The center has multiple points in three straight games and just tied the franchise record for most points in a postseason with 13.

“He competes every shift, and he’s a big part of our team and a leader up front in terms of … how he plays a 200-foot game,” Subban said. “He’s really valuable to our hockey club.”

The Ducks’ style might be taking a toll on the Predators’ power play. Nashville scored four goals on its first 10 power plays on the road this postseason but now are 0 of 8 on the man advantage against Anaheim, including failing to convert through 88 seconds of a 5-on-3 in the opener.

Now Laviolette will have the last change, though he didn’t tip his hand at any possible changes.

“I think the guys will be fine,” he said.

Related: Predators postseason run has turned Music City into Smashville

Sharks’ Haley suspended one game for roughing Jarnkrok

18 Comments

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety has come down on San Jose tough guy Micheal Haley.

On Monday, Haley was suspended one game for roughing Predators forward Calle Jarnkrok, near the end of Nashville’s 7-2 win over the Sharks on Saturday.

“Haley forcefully punches a player who is off balance, not engaged in the confrontation and not even looking when the punch is thrown,” the DoPS explained, via video. “This is a forceful punch on an opponent who is not able to defend himself at the time.”

The DoPS did acknowledge Jarnkrok’s hit on Haley that preceded the punch — Jarnkrok was given a boarding minor on the play — and also noted that Haley explained he was seeking retribution for said hit.

In addition, the DoPS acknowledged this was Haley’s first offense.

As a result of the suspension, Haley will now miss San Jose’s next game — tomorrow at home against the Rangers — and will be eligible to return on Thursday, when the Sharks take on the Oilers in Edmonton.

Haley will also forfeit $3,472.22 in salary to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.