NASHVILLE -- The Nashville Predators were at a disadvantage almost immediately after the puck dropped to begin Game 3 of their Western Conference First Round series against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday.
Predators forward Craig Smith sustained a lower-body injury on his first shift of the game and left the ice. He tried to return later in the period but left for good after playing just 1:05.
The Predators were forced to play the remainder of Game 3 with 11 forwards. The Ducks won 3-0 and cut the Predators' lead in the best-of-7 series to 2-1. Game 4 is Thursday at Bridgestone Arena (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, FX-CA, TVA Sports 3, PRIME, FS-TN).
Losing a top-six forward so quickly forced coach Peter Laviolette to spent almost the entire game juggling his lines.
"I think you're talking 15 or 20 seconds into the game," Laviolette said. "From that point on you're juggling lines and lines are mismatched the entire night. So taking [Smith] out of play that early just puts a shuffle to the line. It's not an excuse for the way we played, but certainly we would rather have guys in there and lines rolling over as opposed to patching them together as we move through the periods."
Video: ANA@NSH, Gm3: Andersen turns away Forsberg on PP
Smith plays on Nashville's second line with Mike Ribeiro and Filip Forsberg, and he's been a big part of Nashville's secondary scoring this season. He scored a goal in Game 2 that gave Nashville a 2-1 lead in a game the Predators won 3-2.
"[Smith's] played well for us, but it's the playoffs," Predators forward Mike Fisher said. "That happened to them in Game 1, and it's part of it. We have enough guys to chip in and shuffle around. Everyone's played with everyone this year, and it's obviously no excuse."
The Predators missed a chance to go up 3-0 in a playoff series for the first time in franchise history and put extreme pressure on the Ducks. Nashville wasn't able to generate many high-quality offensive scoring chances, and Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen was there to stop the chances the Predators did generate.
"It was not a typical game for us," Laviolette said. "We were slower to the mark tonight. I thought their team was quicker to the mark."
Video: ANA@NSH, Gm3: Andersen takes a puck off the mask
Nashville had five power-play opportunities. Anaheim has been giving Nashville opportunities on the power play in every game this series, but Nashville wasn't able to solve Andersen.
"A lot of times your specialty teams operates just like you do 5-on-5," Laviolette said. "When your team's got jump 5-on-5, you often have jump on specialty teams as well. Conversely, when you don't have the pop, there's a good chance you don't have it on the power play or the penalty kill either. I think there's a correlation there. One reflects the other. Their 5-on-5 game was sharp, and their penalty kill was sharp as well."
The Predators are still confident they have what it takes to win the series.
"I don't think there's any reason not to be confident," captain Shea Weber said. "Every team goes into the playoffs confident because you're confident your team is good enough to win. I don't think teams go in thinking, 'I hope we win this year.' We're confident that we've got a good team, and their team is [confident] as well. We know they finished high in the standings. We know they finished where they did for a reason, and we knew it was going to be a good series."