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Speed finally thrills for Predators

Nashville expects a higher-pace response from San Jose in Game 4

by Robby Stanley / NHL.com Correspondent

NASHVILLE -- The Nashville Predators are at their best when they're playing at top speed, and they feel they have shifted into another gear in the Western Conference Second Round against the San Jose Sharks.

The Predators have been playing every other day since April 15, when the Western Conference First Round against the Anaheim Ducks began. The Predators won that series in seven games and two days later started the second round against the Sharks.

Despite taking an early lead in Game 1, it looked as if the busy schedule caught up to the Predators as the game progressed. The Sharks were quicker to pucks and their speed overwhelmed the Predators in the third period.

San Jose won the first two games at home in the best-of-7 series, but the Predators won Game 3 4-1 at home Tuesday and feel as if they've regained their energy.

Game 4 is at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday (9 p.m. ET; CNBC, SN, TVA Sports 2).

"We got off of that Game 7 in just one day and then got right into it, so I think we were kind of getting energy together too," Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm said when asked about the beginning of the series. "To play fast you need energy. It's as simple as that. I think the first game was a little slow, but I think in Game 2 and Game 3 we had it for sure. We'll look to keep that going."

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A big part of the Predators' speed is the mobility of their defensemen. Ekholm, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis are known for their ability to defend well and add to the offense by joining the rush and creating plays. That mix is a luxury for Nashville.

"That's the new look of the NHL," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "If you can get your puck out of your end quick, whether it's skating or passing, and if your defenseman can deliver that, the quicker you can get it through the neutral zone, the quicker you can get into the offensive zone.

"Our defense, I wouldn't say that you could paint all of the guys with one stroke of the brush and say they all play like this, but there's some guys that are terrific at skating it. Some guys are terrific at shooting it. And some guys do a little bit of both. I think we've got a good mix on the back end."

The Sharks were the best team in the NHL on the road during the regular season and are 3-1 away from home during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Sharks also bring good speed to their game, and the Predators expect a higher-paced Game 4.

"They're a fast team," Predators forward Filip Forsberg said. "They've got some skill over there. So we've got to be able to play fast as well to match that. I think we've been doing a pretty good job so far, but they're probably going to pick it up a few notches. We're going to have to be ready for that."

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