Colin Wilson

Predators win Game 5, push Ducks to brink of elimination

20 Comments

The Nashville Predators are one win away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final.

Despite missing centers Ryan Johansen and Mike Fisher due to injuries and having to shuffle their lineup accordingly, the Predators got a third-period go-ahead goal from Pontus Aberg and then held on to defeat the Anaheim Ducks 3-1 in Game 5 on Saturday.

Nashville takes a 3-2 series lead.

Talk about a timely goal from Aberg, Nashville’s second-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. That’s his first career Stanley Cup playoff goal and just his second career goal in the NHL.

The biggest story of this series over the last day has been the injury to Johansen, the Predators’ leading point producer in these playoffs prior to Saturday, and how his absence is a huge blow to their Stanley Cup hopes.

Well, the Predators were able to respond with a huge win on the road.

“Well, I mean, that’s a factor, sure, that we’re without Ryan. I think there’s no question about that. With regard to our players’ heads, they’ve been in the right place, I think, through the entire playoffs and they remain in the right place,” said Predators coach Peter Laviolette prior to Game 5.

“We’ve got a job to do tonight. We wish Ryan was here with us, but he’s not. We’ve got to move forward. And there’s a lot of trust and belief inside of our room that we can be successful.”

Without Johansen, it was mentioned yesterday the need for other members of the Predators to step up and fill the void offensively.

Aberg did his part, converting on a rebound after Filip Forsberg was stopped on the initial shot. Colin Wilson also scored for Nashville. In the previous two playoffs, Wilson had been producing at just below a point per game pace. So far this year, he had only three points in 10 games, but he buried a power play goal in the second period to tie it a goal apiece.

That tying goal came just after Josh Manson was called for a cross check on Forsberg. Prior to that, officials missed a Forsberg high stick on Manson, who was bleeding as a result. More controversy later on, as Predators goalie Pekka Rinne appeared to play the puck outside of the trapezoid, however there was no call.

While the Predators received timely scoring, Rinne was spectacular making 32 saves.

The Ducks began this game without Rickard Rakell, who did not play because of a lower-body injury. The drama continued later on, as goalie John Gibson was replaced by Jonathan Bernier at the beginning of the second period.

The Ducks later announced that Gibson suffered a lower-body injury and was questionable to return.

Game 6 goes Monday in Nashville.

‘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.

Acquisition of Ryan Johansen has paid off in a big way for Preds

8 Comments

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Predators stunned the NHL not once, but twice in 2016 by trading away a top defenseman. Ryan Johansen is the big center landed with Nashville’s first big trade, a move almost forgotten in all the wake of the deal that brought P.K. Subban to Music City.

With Nashville waiting for either Anaheim and Edmonton in the Western Conference finals, the deal for Johansen is looking like one of general manager David Poile’s more masterful swaps.

“Well, it was a big addition at the time,” coach Peter Laviolette said Tuesday of adding Johansen. “Pieces like that are hard to come by. He was young. He’s 6-foot-3. He’s big. He’s skilled. He’s talented. From an organizational standpoint the depth of what we needed, it made a lot of sense.”

The Predators hoped Johansen could be the top line center the franchise has been searching for since its inaugural season back in 1998-99. Poile sent young defenseman Seth Jones, who had been paired with captain Shea Weber, to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Johansen on Jan. 6.

Looking back now, it’s a move overshadowed by Poile’s other trade last June when he shocked the league by trading Weber to Montreal for fellow defenseman Subban.

But Johansen immediately moved onto the top line where he helped the Predators reach the playoffs last spring. They beat Anaheim in seven games only to lose to San Jose in seven in the second round.

Now 24, Johansen tied with linemate Viktor Arvidsson with 61 points in his first full regular season in Nashville, and he also handed out a team-high 47 assists. Only 10 players in the NHL had more this season.

“I think Ryan’s had an excellent year and just the growth for me in him as a person and as a leader as somebody who wants to be that guy, to make a difference and make sure a team moves in the right direction, it’s been noticeable this year that he’s really trying to take ownership,” Laviolette said.

Predators forward Colin Wilson called the trade another great move considering Nashville needed a big No. 1 center and got it in Johansen.

“He’s been great for us,” Wilson said. “In a game that’s gotten big and fast, it’s nice to have him there, and he’s been producing well for us and that line in general wasn’t here three, four years ago. So to have him and constantly be producing has certainly helped.”

Johansen outplayed Chicago captain Jonathan Toews as Nashville swept the Blackhawks in the first round. In one moment as they fought for the puck, the 218-pound Johansen stiff-armed Toews to the ice to grab possession.

“He’s obviously really a really big guy,” linemate Filip Forsberg said of Johansen. “And he can move well too, and I think just one of those guys that can do it all.”

Johansen also outplayed St. Louis center Paul Stastny in the second round and now is winning 55.7 percent of his faceoffs.

Johansen ranks ninth this postseason with seven assists behind Evgeni Malkin, Leon Draisaitl, Erik Karlsson, Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, T.J. Oshie and Ryan Getzlaf. He only has two goals through 10 games, but he scored the biggest yet Sunday with a backhander to finish off a 2-on-1 early in the third period for the game-winner as Nashville eliminated St. Louis in six games.

That was exactly what Nashville hoped for in trading for Johansen, who called scoring that goal a “good feeling.”

“But coming in here, I just believed in myself, and I’m going to continue believing in myself that I can get it done,” Johansen said. “I’ve got a lot of work to do to keep playing at my best.”

There is one area where Johansen might need a little help. He celebrated that goal with a big fist pump. Asked if Johansen was imitating the coach’s celebration of a big goal earlier in the St. Louis series, Laviolette said he wasn’t sure.

“It wasn’t very good if it was,” Laviolette said.

 

Preds proving preseason hype was warranted

AP
4 Comments

They were a trendy pick to win the Stanley Cup.

And then the season started.

The Nashville Predators never really got rolling during their 82-game schedule. They’d have some good stretches, followed by some bad stretches. They ended up as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. Most predicted they’d lose to Chicago in the first round.

Of course, most were wrong. The Preds swept the Blackhawks, and now they’re up 1-0 on the Blues in the second round.

“We come in, we’re supposed to be this awesome, amazing team and we didn’t start so hot,” d-man Ryan Ellis said, per NHL.com. “We started to get better, and then some injuries crept into our locker room. We battled the whole year, losing guys at various times in the year and some younger guys stepped up. But overall, it’s adversity that makes you stronger. This was one of those years we faced a lot of adversity.”

A quick glance at Nashville’s roster and it’s not hard to understand the preseason hype. The Predators have a No. 1 center in Ryan Johansen, a tremendous goal-scorer in Filip Forsberg, and one of the more underrated wingers in the league in Viktor Arvidsson.

But the real jewel is their blue line. Roman Josi is the No. 1 defenseman. He’s paired with Ellis, a former 11th overall draft pick. On the second pair is a former Norris Trophy winner, P.K. Subban, who skates with the dependable Mattias Ekholm.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better top four than that. And to think, the Preds also had Seth Jones, until they traded him to Columbus for Johansen.

The wild card heading into the playoffs was Pekka Rinne, the 34-year-old goalie who was spectacularly inconsistent during the regular season. He had a .949 save percentage in November, followed by an .875 in December. It was .933 in January, down to .888 in February, then back up to .923 in March.

So far this postseason, it’s .962.

Tonight in St. Louis, the Preds can make it six straight wins in the playoffs. More importantly, they can take a 2-0 lead over the Blues back to Nashville.

“Throughout the year, I think we’re a little bit inconsistent,” winger Colin Wilson told reporters. “But when we played our game, we were always unstoppable. We have a lot of talent, great D, great goaltending, all-around strong team with a lot of depth.”

Stream Predators-Blues

Blues just have no answer for P.K. Subban right now

4 Comments

In the first round, P.K. Subban was dominant against the Chicago Blackhawks, but mainly if you look at “fancy stats.” There’s nothing wrong with two assists in that sweep, but those aren’t jaw-dropping numbers.

You don’t need to dig deep to see his impact on Game 1 against the St. Louis Blues. A mere glance at the box score – or a chance to see his blistering shot – and you’ll realize that the Nashville Predators defenseman has been a nightmare for Jake Allen & Co. so far on Wednesday.

Subban seemingly scored his first postseason goal with the Predators to make it 1-0, but Colin Wilson was actually credited with the tally.

No bother there. Subban gave the Predators a crucial lift shortly after play resumed following Kevin Fiala‘s horrifying injury, getting that first Predators playoff goal with another booming shot.

Subban managed to draw a slashing penalty on Scottie Upshall and also sent another huge shot to set up a James Neal goal. There’s no mistaking that P.K. has played a huge role in Nashville going up 3-1 so far; the Blues need to find some answers, and fast.