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5 Keys: Sharks at Predators, Game 4

San Jose's road comfort, Predators' focus among tipping points

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Director, Editorial

NASHVILLE -- The San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators play Game 4 of their Western Conference Second Round series at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday (9 p.m. ET; CNBC, SN, TVA Sports 2).

San Jose leads the best-of-7 series, 2-1.

Here are five keys for Game 4:

1. NO COMFORT ZONE

Staying desperate is often the most difficult thing to do in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. San Jose has won the first two games in each of its series this season, only to lose Game 3 each time.

The Predators won the first two games in the first round against the Anaheim Ducks, but then lost the next three.

So Nashville can't rest on its laurels for Game 4 after its best game of the series in Game 3.

"I think sometimes when you have a good game, there is a tendency to maybe sit back and admire it," Predators center Mike Fisher said. "You can't do that, not be any means. Our team is going to be focused."

Video: Preds celebrate big Game 3 victory over Sharks

2. QUICK DRAW

San Jose won 43 percent (26 of 61) of the faceoffs in Game 3. That wasn't good enough for coach Peter DeBoer.

The Sharks needs the puck to establish time in the offensive zone and use their power cycle game to wear down the Predators defensemen.

Nashville has some good faceoff specialists, particularly fourth-line center Paul Gaustad.

"Gaustad has been a good faceoff guy for the last seven or eight years," DeBoer said. "Fisher's a very good faceoff guy. That's what you are dealing with. They're good, but we have to find a way.

"We have to up our battle level, our compete level and get extra help in there from the wingers. We have to be better than we were last game."

3. ROAD WARRIORS

San Jose has not lost back-to-back games in these playoffs, and has not lost back-to-back road games since Dec. 18 and 20.

DeBoer repeatedly has said the Sharks feel more comfortable on the road. They were 28-10-3 during the regular season away from SAP Center, and are 3-1 in the postseason.

Will that confidence carry over after a road loss in Game 3?

"You try to bounce back as well as you can," San Jose captain Joe Pavelski said. "If we can get back in the win column quickly, it gives ourselves confidence moving forward. It's a good thing to have, but you still have to go out and play a game.

"Compete a little better, be a little harder in a few different areas. [The Predators] were good. Defensively, they were pretty sound, I think, and didn't give us a whole lot, so we'll have to play a little quicker in that end and be a little bit harder on pucks."

Video: Couture speaks with media on off day on Wednesday

4. LINE DANCING

The Sharks have been remarkably consistent with their line combinations this postseason. The same 12 forwards have played in each of San Jose's eight games and, for the most part, have played on the same lines. In the third period of Game 3, DeBoer changed lines a bit more aggressively. He said he was looking for a spark and that the Sharks were dealing with equipment-related issues and minor injuries.

Wednesday, he said San Jose is dealing with some bumps and bruises.

So is this first game we see new personnel? Or different lines?

The Sharks aren't spending too much time thinking about it.

"I think we're all confident in the 14 forwards, eight [defensemen] and two goalies that we have," second-line center Logan Couture said. "Whatever combination that goes out there on the ice, we're confident in. Obviously it's been the same lineup every game, but if it changes, we're still going to be confident.

"There's been some changes throughout games. That sometimes is needed, unfortunately, if guys aren't going. We'll see what happens next game."

5. CHESS MATCH

The Sharks and Predators have faced each other for 180 minutes in the past week. They know each other's tendencies and have identified strengths and weaknesses.

Now, the game planning begins to expose weaknesses and avoid strengths.

Nashville has adjusted its penalty kill to play a bit more aggressively as the series has gone on. Predators coach Peter Laviolette has taken out veteran Mike Ribeiro and replaced him with speedy rookie Pontus Aberg. He has tried to match his top line, centered by Ryan Johansen, against the Couture line in Nashville, something he could not do when the Sharks had the last change for the first two games.

More adjustments will come in Game 4.

"We're just doing things that I think we need to do to be successful," Laviolette said. "I think you try to do your best to calculate the moves you make and whether they are good moves or not good moves, and then eventually you have to make a decision and go with it and hope it is the right move."

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