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Ryan Johansen delivering for Predators in playoffs

No. 1 center has stepped up game to help build 3-0 lead against Blackhawks

by Robby Stanley / Correspondent

NASHVILLE -- When Ryan Johansen was acquired by the Nashville Predators in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets for defenseman Seth Jones on Jan. 6, 2016, general manager David Poile said their search for a No. 1 center was over.

Johansen knows what the expectations have been, and the 24-year-old has delivered in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He has five points (one goal, four assists), and his line is a big reason the Predators have a 3-0 lead against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference First Round.

Game 4 of the best-of-7 series is at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, TVA Sports 3, FS-TN, CSN-CH).

"This is why they traded for me, for this time right here and to be able to try and bring this organization and help this team get over the hump of just being a playoff team," Johansen said. "They want to be Stanley Cup contenders and Stanley Cup champs."

The Predators were one game from the Western Conference Final last season, losing in the second round to the San Jose Sharks in seven games. Nashville has never advanced past the second round.

"That's my motivation right now, is looking at the situation I'm in, looked at as a guy who needs to play a big role on our top line. I've just been really enjoying that and trying to have no regrets and be the best I can and leave it out there on the ice every night."

Johansen's 61 points (14 goals, 47 assists) were tied for first on the Predators with linemate Viktor Arvidsson during the regular season. The line of Johansen, Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg has combined for 11 points against the Blackhawks

Video: NSH@CHI, Gm2: Johansen chips home a rebound

Johansen's physicality has stood out as well. His linemates have noticed more of an edge to his game since the playoffs began.

"I think so, just in the way he's moving," Forsberg said. "He's skating fast. He's playing the game really hard and throwing his body around as well. I think he's one of those guys that can do it all. If you want him to shut down, he can do that. If you want him to score goals, he can do that. He's just obviously playing really well for us right now."

Johansen has spent a lot of time playing against Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews and has won that matchup through the first three games. Toews has one assist, and Johansen leads the series in points.

"I think it's just more of a focus," Johansen said. "Eighty-two-game seasons are so long. You're not so dialed in for every single one of them. I think as of right now, the focus just sharpens up and you can't miss a beat. I'm just trying to be the best I can throughout all the games."

The Predators have a chance to eliminate the Blackhawks on Thursday, and Johansen's line will again have to play a pivotal role.

"We just try to be heavy on pucks and get pucks to the net and then go to the net," Arvidsson said. "You see the two goals we scored [in Game 3], they were greasy goals. We shoot and we converge on the net, and that's what we've got to do. We've got people that want to go in there and people who want to shoot, and that's a big thing."

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