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Posted On Thursday, 04.19.2012 / 2:10 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - Predators vs. Red Wings series blog

Gill back at practice, status for Game 5 uncertain

NASHVILLE -- Predators defenseman Hal Gill participated in a full practice on Thursday for the first time in two weeks after suffering a lower-body injury, but his status for Game 5 on Friday at Bridgestone Arena remains up in the air.
Gill said he would speak to trainers later in the day to address the situation. Predators coach Barry Trotz said the team would know more on Friday.
With Gill out, the team's top defense pair of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber played more than 30 minutes apiece in the Preds' 3-1 win in Game 4 over Detroit. Trotz said he is not worried about Suter and Weber playing too many minutes, as "they're young," he said.
Gill was the team's shot-blocker and leader in shorthanded time on ice during the regular season. Jack Hillen played in the first two games of the series in Gill's spot and rookie Ryan Ellis played in Games 3 and 4, but neither has played more than 10 minutes in a game. Gill averaged 18:02 with Nashville during the regular season after being acquired in February from Montreal.
Nashville can close out the series with a win on Friday, as the Preds hold a 3-1 series lead.
Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 2:48 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - Predators vs. Red Wings series blog

No Gill at Preds practice, still hopeful for Sunday

NASHVILLE – Predators defenseman Hal Gill, who has missed the first two games of his team’s Western Conference Quarterfinals series with Detroit, did not participate in a brief practice Saturday at Bridgestone Arena.
Asked if he had a chance to play in Game 3 on Sunday, Gill responded “hope so.”
Predators coach Barry Trotz said Gill, 37, is “getting closer.”
“One of the things with certain injuries here, sometimes you’re better off not to skate in terms of that and let it settle down,” Trotz said. “Every day that goes by, he’s getting closer and we felt that we can just keep him off today. He did some stuff a lot earlier before everybody got here and we’ll see where it is.”
Gill led Nashville in shorthanded time on ice during the regular season and was the team’s top shot-blocker.
Power play struggles
Nashville has not scored a power play goal in its first 12 chances through Games 1 and 2, but Trotz is not getting discouraged. That is because the Preds are generating plenty of chances, but they’re just not finishing them off.
Trotz said there would be a tendency to “reinvent the wheel” if the unit were not generating chances.
In the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Predators lost their opening-round series with eventual champion Chicago in six games in part because they did not score a power-play goal through the first five games.
“The difference in that power play was in that we got no chances,” Trotz said. “That’s the biggest thing. We just weren’t getting any chances or very, very little. That’s not the case here. … I remember that well, by the way.”
The Preds have never won a postseason game in Detroit, failing in all six chances in their two previous meetings with the Red Wings. If they want to win this series, they will need to do so.
“Obviously, it’s a tough place to play,” Ryan Suter said. “We have to if we want to win the series, we’re going to have to win a game there. Going into it, you’re looking at it as, ‘Oh, geez, we’ve never won there. We gotta win.’ But it’s just more of a fact that if we play the way we’re capable of playing we have a good chance to win.”

Posted On Friday, 04.13.2012 / 2:02 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - Predators vs. Red Wings series blog

Filppula happy for Rinne's rise, but not right now

NASHVILLE – Each team in this Western Conference Quarterfinal series has one player from Finland -- forward Valtteri Filppula for Detroit and Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne.
Filppula has played against Rinne in his homeland and often as foes in the Central Division. He said in the NHL that Rinne is one of the few goalies who will have a chat with him during the game, though none of that has gone on in the playoffs.
“You have a little bit of a Finnish connection and any time you face a Finnish guy, usually say hi to him and what’s going on there,” Rinne said. “He’s a nice guy, but now it’s a different time of the season but he’s pretty laid-back guy and I’m usually that way, too.”
Filppula said that part of what makes the 6-foot-5 Rinne successful is that he’s an excellent athlete. Filppula said he played against Rinne some back home, but more now in the NHL.
“Now you get to see him more and obviously he’s become better as you would hope,” Filppula said of Rinne. “He’s always been good size and really fast and I think that’s the biggest thing as to why he’s really good. He’s really quick and obviously never gives up and makes a lot of good saves after you think it should be a sure goal. He comes back and makes those key saves. Definitely, it’s a fun goalie to follow and hope for all the best, but not so much in this series.”
Rinne was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy last year but he does not have a star personality. He’s fairly low-key off the ice. Filppula said that as a result Rinne does not exactly have rock-star status in Finland.
“Well, I think for the Finnish audience, it’s tougher since he didn’t play that much back home,” Filppula said. “He came over here pretty early but I think now people see him play more and I think he’s definitely one of the top Finnish players to play. He’s really earned that right and everyone knows he’s a great goalie now. I don’t think he acts that way, which is a good thing.”
Posted On Friday, 04.13.2012 / 1:56 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - Predators vs. Red Wings series blog

Cleary returns to 'heavy' style despite knee injury

NASHVILLE – As recently as last week, Red Wings right wing Dan Cleary said his left knee was only at 50 percent.
Without giving away too much, Cleary said Friday that improved medication is helping him in the playoffs. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said he thought that Cleary was one of the team’s better forwards in Detroit’s 3-2 loss in Game 1 and that Cleary played a “heavy” game and not a “light” game on the periphery, as he was forced to do during the regular season when the knee bothered him.
Cleary played 15:49 and posted an even rating. Cleary was one of only four Red Wings not to be a minus in Game 1 and one of those four was center Darren Helm, who endured a playoff-ending laceration to his forearm and played only 3:06.
“How do I phrase this the right way? The medicine helped a lot,” Cleary said of Game 1. “It’s a little different in the playoffs. … The dose is a little better. It allowed to me to be able not to feel [the pain], so I felt like normal. It’s good.
“Let’s put it this way, medicine certainly helped -- like a lot. The type that you take in the playoffs is a lot different. It was a huge difference. I felt like normal. I could skate.” 
Cleary normally kills penalties with Helm so he said he did not think he would see more time on the penalty kill. But he said Helm’s loss was a blow to the team. Helm underwent surgery Wednesday.
“His loss is felt for sure,” Cleary said.
He said he had spoken to Helm and was asked about Helm’s spirits.
“How would you be, you know?” he said. “He’s pretty down, but at least he’s -- in a way -- healthy. You know, there’s no nerve damage, so that was a huge thing but his loss is going to be felt, huge, huge loss.”
Posted On Friday, 04.13.2012 / 1:18 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - Predators vs. Red Wings series blog

Predators' Gill rules himself out for Game 2

NASHVILLE – Predators defenseman Hal Gill ruled himself out on Friday for Game 2 of his team’s Western Conference Quarterfinal series with Detroit because of a lower-body injury that continues to plague him.
Nashville acquired the 6-foot-7 defenseman in February for his penalty-killing and shot-blocking abilities from Montreal in preparation for their Stanley Cup Playoff run, but Gill has yet to be available. He skated before the team’s optional skate Friday at Bridgestone Arena but did not feel well enough to go. He said the decision was made in conjunction with the coaching and training staffs.
“It’s getting better,” the 37-year-old Gill said, meeting with the media for the first time since the injury occurred April 5 against Dallas. “It’s something I have to take it day by day and test it without pushing too hard.”
Then he ruled himself out.
“I’m going to give it some more time,” Gill said. “At this point, I don’t think I can help the team so we have some good players that can play, so I’ll let that go.”
Nashville coach Barry Trotz said he would dress seven defensemen again for warm-ups, as he did in Game 1, and then make his decision as to who would be in the lineup – either Jack Hillen, who played in Game 1, or rookie Ryan Ellis. Hillen, 26, seems the likely choice.

Beyond the team’s first pair with Shea Weber, the defense corps is not big. Hillen and Ellis both stand 5-foot-10, but Hillen outweighs Ellis officially by 11 pounds and is a bit more muscular. He played 8:20 and was plus-1 while taking a minor penalty Wednesday.
Nashville had to kill eight penalties in its 3-2 victory in Game 1 and Detroit scored two power-play goals, so Gill’s presence – and his 105 career playoff games -- was missed.
“To win is awesome, I don’t care how it happens,” Gill said, “but those are the games that you want to be a part of. Those are the fun ones. Playoff hockey is the most exciting thing that I’ve ever had in my life so it’s tough not to play.”
Gill said to try and play right now would be foolish and that he just has to be patient.
“There’s being tough and then there’s too much pride and right at this point it would be too much pride to play,” he said. “So, like I said, we got good players, we can win with them.”
Gill refused to handicap his odds for Game 3 on Sunday at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, but said he would travel with the team Saturday for the trip. He said he has been staying in shape, exercising, waiting until he is ready. Game 4 is Tuesday and then the teams have two days off before Game 5, if necessary, back at Bridgestone Arena on April 20, giving him potentially more time to heal.
Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 8:14 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - Predators vs. Red Wings series blog

Gill to miss Game 1 with lower-body injury

NASHVILLE -- Predators defenseman Hal Gill will miss Game 1 of his team's Western Conference Quarterfinal series against Detroit with a lower-body injury.
Jack Hillen, 26, took his place in the lineup and made his playoff debut Wednesday night. Gill, acquired from Montreal in February, finished 16th in the League in blocked shots and led Nashville in shorthanded time on ice per game.
Brandon Yip and Matt Halischuk earned the spots on the wings on the fourth line, which is centered by Paul Gaustad. Coach Barry Trotz seemed like he might play rookie speedster Craig Smith, but opted for the larger Yip on the right side. Earlier in the day, Trotz compared Yip to last year's playoff hero for Nashville, Joel Ward.
Veteran right wing Jordin Tootoo, center Colin Wilson and wing Brian McGrattan were the other scratches for Nashville.
As expected, center Darren Helm returned to the lineup for Detroit. Forward Gustav Nyquist was scratched in favor of Cory Emmerton, who had six goals and four assists in 71 games.
Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 2:42 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - Predators vs. Red Wings series blog

Red Wings welcome Helm back to lineup

NASHVILLE -- Red Wings center Darren Helm, who missed the regular season's final 10 games with a sprained knee, will return to the lineup on Wednesday for Game 1 of his team's Western Conference Quarterfinal series with the Predators at Bridgestone Arena.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock gave an emphatic, "Helm's playing" after his team's morning skate. Helm -- who had nine goals and 17 assists in 68 games -- provides Detroit with some speed and a helpful penalty-killer up front.
Earlier in the week, Helm said he would not be at 100 percent effectiveness if he played, but Babcock put those ideas to rest on Wednesday.
"Well, if he was 50 percent effectiveness, he wouldn't be playing; let’s get that straight," Babcock said. "We sat down and we talked about that specifically and I said I have lots of guys on deck ready to go and he assured me he's ready to go, so there's no issue there."
Before Babcock spoke, Helm said he would have to consult with the doctors and trainers before getting the OK to play.
"I want to make sure I'm helping my team, not hurting them," he said. "This has always been everyone's favorite time of year, but it's a chance for me to play the way I want to play all the time. It's hard to play this style of game 82 games a year, but it's focus on one game at a time now. I can play with lots of energy, speed and finishing checks, and I hope I can be out there and make a difference."
Babcock said he has ruled out forwards Jan Mursak, Riley Sheahan and Chris Conner. The final decision on Detroit's lineup will come down to forwards Justin Abdelkader or Cory Emmerton. Babcock said Helm's presence in the lineup helps to align the Red Wings' bottom two lines and will help to provide them more scoring depth. Then he seemed to engage in some gamesmanship.
"Well, Helmer puts everybody in the right spot," he said. "We had a great bottom six all year long and then we lost our people [to numerous injuries] and we had no bottom six, we had no support scoring. You know, it's amazing when you put people in the right spot. When I look at their team, I see [Nick] Spaling and [Paul] Gaustad in the three-four holes [at center], those are good matchups for us. They weren't without [Helm]."
Babcock seemed to continue the theme of trying to turn up the competitive pressure on Nashville, saying he and general manager Ken Holland have often talked about how they would prefer to start the playoffs on the road instead of their status as a perennial high seed. He said starting on the road makes his team looser.
"Just play the game," he said. "Just get out and get after them. You don't have to worry about anything. You just play, nice and simple and just put as much pressure on the opposition as you can and just watch them tighten up."

Here is the Red Wings' projected lineup for Game 1:
Johan Franzen - Pavel Datsyuk - Todd Bertuzzi
Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler
Drew Miller - Darren Helm - Danny Cleary
Gustav Nyqvist - Justin Abdelkader/Cory Emmerton - Tomas Holmstrom
Nicklas Lidstrom - Jonathan Ericsson
Niklas Kronwall - Brad Stuart
Kyle Quincey - Ian White
Jimmy Howard
Ty Conklin

Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 2:29 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - Predators vs. Red Wings series blog

Gill to be a game-time decision

NASHVILLE -- Predators coach Barry Trotz re-iterated that defenseman Hal Gill, who leads his team in averaging penalty-killing time on ice, will be a game-time decision Wednesday for Game 1 of the team's Western Conference Quarterfinal series (8 p.m. ET, CNBC, CBC).
The Predators held an optional skate Wednesday and the 6-foot-7, 241-pound Gill (lower-body injury) did not participate. Trotz said the Predators would skate seven defensemen in warm-ups.
If Gill cannot play, then Jack Hillen or rookie Ryan Ellis likely would take his place in the lineup. Trotz described the 21-year-old Ellis, last year's Ontario Hockey League player of the year, as someone who is poised and does not get rattled on the big stage, as he has played in high-profile tournaments such as the World Junior Championship.
Hillen, 26, has played more than 200 NHL games, but, like Ellis, would be making his playoff debut. Hillen is a sturdy 5-10 and 190 pounds and Trotz seemed to trust his penalty-killing ability, which could be the team's need if Gill can't play.
"Jack's one of those guys who is really sort of one of those under-the-radar guys," Trotz said. "He's really efficient. He skates real well. He's really strong on his feet and therefore he's got leverage skills. He's a good penalty-killer and you know what you're going to get with Jack. He's a little older; he's 26, so he's a little more mature than other players."
Hillen had two goals, four assists, 20 penalty minutes and a plus-6 rating in 55 games. He was a mainstay in the lineup for much of the first half of the season, but once Ellis was called up after the League's two-day December holiday break and Gill was acquired in February, he played sparingly.
Hillen sounded like someone who had been told to be ready to go.
"I slept well, but I was really excited," he said. "I definitely went to bed thinking about it, woke up thinking about it. Just went over it in my head -- if I'm in there, what I need to do -- so, definitely excited about it."
While Gill's presence in the lineup is the major issue for Nashville going into Game 1, Trotz also has some decisions to make in terms of his fourth-line forwards. Matt Halischuk and rookie Craig Smith seem to be the likely choices to play with center Paul Gaustad, although Brandon Yip also is a possibility on the right side instead of Smith. Colin Wilson, Jordin Tootoo and Brian McGrattan were among the final players coming off the ice and seem less likely to crack the lineup.
Smith ranked among the League's top rookie scorers during the first part of the season, but hit something of a wall in the second half. Trotz said he thinks it's not unusual for that to happen for first-year players who have come out of college. (Smith played at the University of Wisconsin.)
But on Wednesday, Trotz said Smith is "flying around," and that looks like the explosive player he was earlier in the season. Smith had a goal and two assists in the Predators' regular-season finale Saturday against Colorado.
In the season finale, Smith skated on a line with Wilson at center and Halischuk on the other wing. Smith was asked if he thought his performance on Saturday gave Trotz reason to play him in the playoffs.
"I think our whole line did," he said. "I thought our line played exceptionally well. I think we were playing simple and doing the right things and had success. At this point, anyone who's in the lineup is going to be ready to go."
Here is the lineup the lineup the Predators likely will put on the ice for Game 1:
Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Andrei Kostitsyn - David Legwand - Alexander Radulov
Gabriel Bourque - Nick Spaling - Patric Hornqvist
Matt Halischuk - Paul Gaustad - Craig Smith
Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Roman Josi - Hal Gill
Francis Bouillon - Kevin Klein
Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback

Brandon Yip could replace Smith on the right side of the fourth line.

If Gill can't play, Bouillon likely would slide into his spot with Josi, and Jack Hillen would play on the third pair with Klein.
Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 3:54 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - Predators vs. Red Wings series blog

Gill (lower body) a game-time decision for opener

NASHVILLE -- The Predators acquired defenseman Hal Gill, who made appearances in back-to-back Stanley Cup Final series in 2008 and 2009, winning it with Pittsburgh the second time around, precisely for the postseason, but his presence in the lineup for Game 1 of his team's Western Conference Quarterfinal series with Detroit on Wednesday will be a game-time decision, coach Barry Trotz said on Tuesday.
One of the 6-foot-7 Gill's specialties is blocking shots, and he may have injured himself doing just that in Nashville's home finale on Thursday when he stepped in front of a drive by Dallas' Sheldon Souray, owner of one of the League's hardest shots. Gill did not practice on Wednesday. Trotz would not confirm that Gill injured by blocking Souray's shot, but did confirm Gill had a lower-body injury.
"We felt with his injury, just no sense trying to aggravate it anymore, so we'll know in the morning," Trotz said.
Gill did not play in the season finale on Saturday against Colorado and Trotz said he had a "maintenance day" on Monday when Gill did not practice either. Gill skated by himself on Tuesday before the team's main session.
Splitting his time between Montreal and Nashville, Gill averaged 17:08 in time on ice in 76 games and posted a minus-3 rating, though he was plus-4 in 23 games with Nashville playing slightly more than he did in Montreal at 18:02. In particular, Nashville wanted him for his penalty-killing ability. At 3:28 per game, he is by far the Preds' leader in average shorthanded time on ice. Nashville acquired the 37-year-old with a conditional fifth-round pick on Feb. 17 in exchange for forwards Blake Geoffrion and Rob Slaney and a second-round pick. Coincidentally, both of Gill's appearances in the Cup Final came against Detroit, Nashville's opponent in the coming series.
Gill led the Preds with 161 blocked shots, which ranked him 16th in the NHL.
Trotz was asked if he were worried about a letdown if Gill cannot play on Wednesday.
"Well, we can't," he said. "The playoffs are about, there's going to be adversities, there's going to be changes in the lineup, and you just have to adjust. If he's in the lineup, great. If he's not, then we'll just have to adjust. The playoffs are all about adjustments. Not everything's going to go perfect. After Game 1, whoever wins is probably going to limit their adjustments, and the team that loses is probably going to adjust a little more because something didn't work.
"That's sort of the cat-and-mouse game that happens in the playoffs, especially when you're playing a team and playing them maybe up to seven games."
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