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Johnston: Predators playing well enough to win

Former NHL coach says Nashville crowd could factor into Game 3; thinks Burns key to Sharks power play

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 Portland of the Western Hockey League from 2008 to 2014. He also has been an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Kings and the Vancouver Canucks.

The Nashville Predators lost 3-2 to the San Jose Sharks in Game 2 on Sunday to fall behind 2-0 in their Western Conference Second Round series, but former NHL coach Mike Johnston said they did a lot of things right.

"I thought they played a better game in Game 2," Johnston said. "They had more shots than San Jose, more scoring chances than San Jose through two periods, they were physical and they got in on the Sharks defense. They have to do that because those defenseman are so skilled and you can't give them time."

Johnston thought the Predators were especially good at taking away shooting lanes from top Sharks defenseman Brent Burns.

"You have to do that against him because in the offensive zone he is so dangerous," Johnston said.

Burns showed how dangerous he is on the game-opening goal, which came on the power play. His shot was denied by Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne, but popped out and onto the stick of San Jose center Logan Couture for the put-back.

Video: Discussing the Key Performers for the San Jose Sharks

Another sign of Burns' impact on the series is the effectiveness of San Jose's power play, which is 3-for-5 through the first two games.

"They always say that a good power play has to have a good up-top shooter and they certainly have that in Burns," he said.

Johnston liked the fact Nashville put more pressure on Sharks goaltender Martin Jones in Game 2. Jones faced 39 shots (the Predators had 31 in Game 1) and many of them were through traffic in front of Jones or came off redirections, facets that were missing for Nashville in Game 1.
 
"Jones had a lot more work, but he still looked cool," Johnston said.

Defenseman Mattias Ekholm scored Nashville's first goal off a slap shot from the high slot that beat Jones top shelf.

"That's a typical Nashville goal," Johnston said. "They hung on to the puck and got the defense moving to create some confusion and then they got the puck through from the point. They need to do more of that."

The series shifts to Bridgestone Arena in Nashville for Game 3 on Tuesday (9 p.m. ET; USA, SN360, TVA Sports) and Johnston is curious to see how the change in venue plays out. He thought the crowd at SAP Center was a factor in the first two games, especially when the Sharks got some momentum from their red-hot power play.

"I think Nashville can use their crowd for some momentum in Game 3," he said. "That Nashville building is crazy. They have great fans and they should be able to use that to their advantage like the Sharks did in the first part of this series."

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