NASHVILLE -- His team did not make it past the Western Conference Semifinals last year, but nonetheless Predators defenseman Ryan Suter led all skaters during the playoffs in average time on ice per game at 28:51.
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During the 2011-12 regular season, Suter finished third in that category with a paltry-by-comparison 26:30. Shea Weber, with whom Suter forms a pair -- and who, like Suter, was an All-Star -- finished fifth in that category at 26:09.
One of the reasons Nashville acquired defenseman Hal Gill in February was to take minutes off of Weber and Suter. Amazing as it might seem by their statistics, Gill did so and Weber and Suter were glad for it.
However, with the arrival of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the yoke is off, so to speak, and Weber and Suter are ready to log the heavy minutes again. With Gill being a game-time decision for Wednesday, they might get even more than they initially suspected.
"Yeah, yeah, I think we are [ready]," said Weber, a finalist for the Norris Trophy last season. "Obviously, this is an exciting time. We're ready to go and we got a little bit of a rest in the last week, playing less minutes, and it's 'go time,' so we're going to play as many minutes as we need to."
In the season finale, with Nashville already assured of the No. 4 seed, Suter played only 19:48 in a 6-1 win over Colorado while Weber skated for 19:00. Suter joked that it was a harder adjustment to play less than it is to play more. In the past, he has said it's easier to play more because he gets in a rhythm, whatever the physical demands might be.
"It's tough to stay in a rhythm, especially when you're not used to it," Suter said of playing less. "If I were used to playing that -- but when you're used to playing 26 minutes and you go down to 20, it's pretty big difference."
Weber said quickly following up a good shift can create a virtuous cycle while quickly following up a bad one provides a chance for redemption and to forget about the former one.
Judging by last season, Weber and Suter could play at least 10 more shifts per game Wednesday night than they did in the season finale. In that game on Saturday, Preds defensemen took 141 shifts for an average of 51 seconds each. Weber and Suter played 22 apiece. By comparison, last year when Nashville was eliminated 2-1in regulation in Game 6 of their second-round series with Vancouver, Weber took 34 shifts and Suter 32, so out of 160 shifts that night on defense -- notice the team has a whole had plenty more and, as a result, the shifts were shorter than in the regular season -- Weber and Suter played 41 percent of them.
Predators coach Barry Trotz said it's by no means a given that Weber and Suter will go back to playing huge minutes, but agreed that Gill did help to take some of the load off them.
"We're going to play them the way we need to play them, be it whatever the game dictates," he said, "and Hal did that. He took them off the penalty kill a little bit. And [rookie] Roman Josi's gone in there and done that. There were times when everybody was in the lineup that Shea and Ryan's minutes were served a little bit more on the five-on-five and also on the power play and what have you."
Suter and Weber said that the recovery the day after a game when they play heavy minutes is not much different than any other. Suter said some players prefer the cold tub, though not him. He said sleep and nutrition take on an enhanced role.
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"You kind of know what works for you," Weber said. "Obviously, you might get a few more bumps and bruises during a physical series, but that's just part of it, but at the end of it -- at the end of June -- it's well worth it."
Center David Legwand, whose minutes traditionally have gone up for Nashville in the playoffs over the last two seasons over what he played in the regular season, said Weber and Suter have another coping mechanism: less practice on off days.
"Obviously, they're going to be playing a lot of hockey in game-type situations and those things, so I think that's good," Legwand said.
With Games 1 and 2 at Bridgestone Arena, Trotz will have the last line change and could match Weber and Suter against Detroit's line of Valtteri Filppula, Pavel Datsyuk and Todd Bertuzzi. On the road, it's a different story, and Suter expects to be on the ice for more defensive zone faceoffs and in other situations.
Whatever it is, Suter is looking forward to the challenge.
"The more we play the better we are," he said. "I think that's a big thing, too, that [Trotz] knows that we want to be out there and we want to play."