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Johnston: Momentum key for Nashville

Former NHL coach says Predators, Sharks will have to fight fatigue in Game 5 Saturday

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

For additional insight into the Western Conference Second Round series between the Nashville Predators and the San Jose Sharks, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Mike Johnston to break down the action. Johnston will be checking in throughout the series. 

Johnston, 59, was most recently the coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, compiling a 58-37-15 record during his tenure. He was coach and general manager of the Western Hockey League's Portland Winterhawks from 2008 to 2014. He also has been an assistant coach for the Kings and the Vancouver Canucks.

To Johnston, it was quite fitting that Nashville Predators forward Mike Fisher scored the winning goal in triple overtime of Game 4 on Thursday.

"Right from the beginning of the game, Fisher looked good," Johnston said. "He was creating offensively and responsible defensively. He had a lot of jump."

Fisher scored the second Nashville goal and then had the deciding goal 11:12 into the period to give Nashville a 4-3 victory.

The best-of-7 series is tied 2-2. Game 5 is Saturday at SAP Center (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Video: SJS@NSH, Gm4: Fisher slides winner past Jones

Fisher played 37:33 on Thursday and had two goals, took five shots, blocked four shots, had five hits and finished plus-3.

The forward, who was put on a line with Colin Wilson and James Neal in Game 3, was on the ice for Nashville's four goals.

"I thought putting that line together was a really good adjustment by Nashville coach Peter Laviolette," Johnston said. "Making that change has put more balance in their lines. Wilson has been playing well all playoffs and Fisher has some jump and they have worked well with Neal."

Johnston expects Nashville to carry the momentum into Saturday.

"Nashville has to have a lot of energy because those long games are so hard to lose," he said. "It's like a dagger emotionally, plus the physical toll of playing all those minutes. If you win the game, of course you are still fatigued, but you can regroup and relax a little bit because you have the win."

Johnston says it will be easy to see who survived the rigors of the 111:12 marathon that stretched into Friday morning and was followed by a cross-country flight by each team.

Johnston says that the trainers, nutritionists and other support personnel will play a huge role as the game approaches, as the players will need the proper food, nutrients and sleep to restore energy in what has been a very even series.

"I don't think either coach has to make major adjustments," he said. "If you look at the series, power play, penalty kill, shots, chances, it is really, really close. It's where the series should be, 2-2."

Johnston says there will be indicators of which team is suffering more from the heavy minutes played.

Video: SJS@NSH, Gm4: Rinne comes up clutch twice

Nashville defenseman Roman Josi led all players with 49:42 of ice time. His partner, Shea Weber, played 35 seconds fewer. Defenseman Brent Burns led the Sharks with 47:35.

Eighteen players played more than 30 minutes.

"It will be all about legs and energy for those guys that played high, high minutes, especially the defensemen," Johnston said. "They had to get through the mental recovery, plus the travel. So, the thing to look for is who has energy early and who is jumping into the play."

He says the key for each team is to be aggressive on the forecheck and inflict damage on the defensemen, as it will affect the players who saw the most action in Game 4.

"That first period is going to be the key," he says. "I think, in this game, whoever wins the first period has a good chance to win the game."

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