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Johnston: Predators must adapt to Sharks' new lines

Former NHL coach says Nashville has to do better job adjusting in Game 6, should benefit from home crowd

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 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 2008-2014. He also has been an assistant for the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks.

The questions going into Game 5 between the San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators centered around which team would be able to put Game 4 of the Western Conference Second Round series in the past -- physically and mentally.

Game 5 at SAP Center in San Jose on Saturday was 48 hours and the majority of the country removed from Game 4 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, which the Predators won at 11:12 of the third overtime early Friday.

San Jose answered those questions pretty quickly, in the mind of former NHL coach Mike Johnston.

"I thought San Jose had a lot of jump early and they had more lines going," Johnston said.

Video: NSH@SJS, Gm5: Marleau buries home Donskoi's feed

One of the keys, Johnston said, was the decision by Sharks coach Peter DeBoer to switch up his lines. He moved Patrick Marleau, the third-line center, up to the second line and moved Joel Ward, the second-line right wing, to the third line. DeBoer also inserted veteran center Dainius Zubrus into the lineup, in the place of Tommy Wingels. It was the Sharks' first roster replacement of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I think that new Marleau line was like another top line," Johnston said.

Marleau scored the game-opening goal at 10:47 of the first period, on an assist from left wing Joonas Donskoi.

The altered lines presented matchup issues for the Predators, who had to decide how to deploy their checking assets.

"It made it really hard to match against the Sharks in Game 5," Johnston said.

But it was the traditional first line for San Jose that struck the biggest blow of the game. Less than two minutes after Mike Fisher scored to tie it 1-1, San Jose captain Joe Pavelski, the first-line right wing, scored what proved to be the game-winning goal.

The one-timer was set up by a brilliant pass from Joe Thornton from the half-wall into the slot, where Pavelski was not defended.

"We've talked about Joe Thornton a lot in these playoffs and how much he means to the Sharks and how good he has been for them," Johnston said. "His puck-management skills are at a world-class level. You give him time to make a pass, and he will do something with it. That is what he did there."

San Jose scored three more goals to take control of the game and move Nashville to the brink of elimination, winning 5-1 to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series.

To think that this series is over would be a mistake, Johnston said, especially considering the home team has won all five games.

"It seems like it is a home-ice-advantage series," he said. "The crowd at Bridgestone Arena certainly helps Nashville."

It will also help Nashville to be able to dictate the matchups in Game 6 because of the last-change option afforded to the home team. One of the issues Nashville will have to address is how they want to attack the new lines San Jose used in Game 5.

The Predators want to deploy Roman Josi and Shea Weber against the Sharks' top forwards. Too often, though, that has put them in the position of having to defend instead of attack. Weber, among the best two-way defensemen in the game, has two points in the series, although his goal in Game 3 was the game-winner.

The Predators know they have a way back into the series, mainly because they did it in the first round against the Anaheim Ducks. Nashville trailed Anaheim 3-2 before winning back-to-back games, starting in Game 6 at Bridgestone Arena, to advance.

"Their mindset has to be they are playing at home and that they have won there recently," Johnston said. "They have to think that if they play the way they did in the first two games at Bridgestone, that they will have a good chance to get it to a Game 7 and let it be decided there."

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