NASHVILLE — The Predators’ forecheck was one of the big reasons they had so much success in Games 3 and 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.
But for a number of reasons, the Preds weren’t able to pressure Pittsburgh’s defense in Game 5, and now the Preds are facing elimination.
To stay alive, they’ll have to reestablish that forecheck Sunday in Game 6.
“Just get back to putting pucks behind their D,” said Nashville center Colton Sissons. “We turned pucks over a little too much, little bit too much east-to-west, losing speed through the neutral zone. If we can get pucks behind their D, put ’em in good spots away from (Matt) Murray, we’ll be able to establish a forecheck.”
At times, playing defense in the NHL is a lot like playing quarterback in the NFL. When a puck is dumped in, a defensemen has to go back to get it, just like a quarterback dropping back to pass. The pressure is coming, and the right decision needs to be made in a hurry.
“It’s tough, obviously,” said Preds d-man Matt Irwin. “As a defenseman going back for the puck, you want to have as much time as you can. You know you got guys barreling down on you that are going to finish checks. I think they did a good job of that against us in Game 5.”
For the Predators, much of reestablishing the forecheck will come down to playing smarter through the neutral zone, cutting down turnovers, and placing their dump-ins better.
But some of it will also come down to desperation, after the Penguins won most of the races in Game 5.
“If you’re not there first, if you’re not quick to get there and establish that forecheck, what happens is a breakout from the opposition,” said head coach Peter Laviolette.
That’s where Nashville’s crowd could play a role Sunday. In 10 home games this postseason, the Preds have only lost once at Bridgestone Arena. All that noise can make it hard on the opposition. All that energy can feed the home team’s desire.
“It’s a great atmosphere,” said Laviolette. “We know that our fans are behind us. It’s loud. There’s a lot of energy. I think we’ve played well on the ice as well. So it’s gone hand in hand — the play on the ice has brought out the best in our fans, and it seems to have escalated as the playoffs have moved on.
“That being said, we’ve got to make sure our game is intact and that we’re on point with what we’re doing on the ice.”