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Predators awaiting Gill's return to boost defense

By John Manasso - NHL.com Correspondent

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Predators awaiting Gill's return to boost defense
Hal Gill practiced Thursday and could return Friday to take some pressure of Nashville's top defensive pair of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.

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 after talking with media members around noon Central Time.

Predators coach Barry Trotz said it was a "very important" step and that he thought Gill practiced well.

"He skated the whole practice, he felt pretty good," Trotz said. "We'll see where he is tomorrow. That's really his call."

Gill said he wants to make sure that he can play at a high level.

"It's not like you're jumping into an exhibition game and you can [go halfway] out there," he said. "You gotta go all out and you need to be ready for that."

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Nashville can close out the series with a win on Friday, as the Preds hold a 3-1 series lead.

With Gill out, the team's top defense pair of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber played more than half the game in the Preds' 3-1 win in Game 4 over Detroit. Weber played 31:20 and Suter 30:41. Trotz said he is not worried about Suter and Weber playing too many minutes -- "they're young," he said.

Gill was the team's shot-blocker and leader in shorthanded time on ice during the regular season and the team acquired him also because of his success in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as he played on 2008 Eastern Conference champion Pittsburgh and then won the Stanley Cup with the Penguins the following year

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. Ellis logged only 5:08 in time on ice in Game 4. For the series, he is averaging 6:29 in his two games and Hillen is averaging 7:53 in his two. Gill averaged 18:02 with Nashville during the regular season after being acquired in February from Montreal. Trotz said having Gill back in the lineup would give him "a few more options."

"You might not have to come at times back with Suter and Weber in certain situations," Trotz said. "Penalty kill -- you can knock off two or three minutes right there. That's not a bad place to start. Those are always hard minutes. Sutes and Webs are young and they're used to playing heavy minutes. Everybody goes after them, so they're fine. I don't worry about them getting worn out, that's for sure. It gives you the option to take some of those guys away from the hard minutes on the penalty kill or matchups on every shift."

Goalie Pekka Rinne, who has every reason himself to be fatigued -- he's faced 138 shots, the second-most in the playoffs -- joked about Suter and Weber not being tired.

"They already played 82 games, now it's only been four games, so I'm sure they're holding up pretty good," he said. "No, we had a good little break yesterday. Had a day off and kind of had a chance to take it easy and just get re-energized today. We had a good practice. We're ready to go (Friday) night and now it's up to us. We could have a few days off, too, now it's just up to us."

Even with Gill not making an impact on the ice, he's doing his best to help off the ice and to keep some of his young teammates relaxed. On Wednesday, when Trotz gave the team the day off from practice, some players gathered at the hotel where Gill is staying to use the pool. Gill tweeted a photo of rookie Swiss defenseman Roman Josi, with whom Gill was often paired during the regular season, mocking Josi's lack of a tan with the hashtag "whiteasanalp."

Josi said that with Gill's wife and children remaining in Montreal, "he's one of the single guys."

"It's not like you're jumping into an exhibition game and you can [go halfway] out there," he said. "You gotta go all out and you need to be ready for that."
-- Preds' defenseman Hal Gill

Gill is 37 while Josi is 21. Another member of that crew is rookie Jack Maclellan, 23, whom the team signed in March out of Brown University in Providence, R.I. -- the same city where Gill played his collegiate hockey at Providence College. Maclellan has yet to play a regular season or playoff game with the Preds.

The fact that Gill is 37 was pointed out to Josi.

"Yeah, he is, but he's young in his head," Josi said. "He likes to be around the young guys and he's a funny guy, so we like to hang around him. You can see off the ice, he has lots of experience. … He says something funny. It's a lot of fun to hang out with him."

And on the ice, Josi has learned from Gill, as well.

"How he uses sticks and keeps guys out of the crease or out of the middle or slot, so I can learn a lot of him how he plays defensively," Josi said. "He's great defenseman. Very responsible and always gets the puck out."

If Gill does get back on the ice, he knows he has some catching up to do.

"You get jacked up for that," he said. "And that's what it's all about. It's coming back and playing in these situations and that's the fun part. You have to be amped up, you have to be ready to go. You can't be tentative at all, and that's what my challenge is going to be."

Quote of the Day

What we expected is what we got. Very mature young individual that's focused. He is on the right track. He's not only a great hockey individual, but he's a good person off the ice. He seemed to take a leadership role with this group right off the hop and ran away with it, and was vocal, was respectful, was everything it takes to be a Panther. His future looks bright.

— Florida Panthers director of player development Brian Skrudland on defenseman Aaron Ekblad's performance at development camp