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Smithson injury could open door for Dumont

by John Manasso
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nashville Predators sit one loss away from playoff elimination, and with each passing game their roster keeps getting thinner.

First they lost veteran forward Steve Sullivan in Game 3 to a lower-body injury and coach Barry Trotz said Sullivan is "probably very doubtful" for the remainder of the series.

In Game 4, the Predators lost key checking-line center Jerred Smithson, who scored the overtime goal in Game 5 in Anaheim and was on ice for the Predators' overtime goal in Game 2 against Vancouver. Smithson did not travel with the team to Vancouver.

"I think it's 'all hands on deck,'" Trotz said after the loss. "We have some special people. I think we have three special people (goalie Pekka Rinne and defensemen Shea Weber and Ryan Suter), and then we've got some complementary players that are good players. We might have to do it from the back end a little bit more. It might be Pekka doing what he did in Vancouver (in Game 2) again. I look at the task and everybody's saying it's three (wins)."

"The task is not three. The task is one. If we don't get one, it really doesn't matter." -- Barry Trotz

Trotz, however, wants his team to narrow its focus a bit.

"No, the task is not three," he said. "The task is one. If we don't get one, it really doesn't matter."

If Smithson cannot play, then Trotz will be down to his last forward, J-P Dumont, who played 70 regular-season games but scored only 10 goals. Nashville's tight-checking style is what has kept all of these games competitive despite Vancouver's 3-1 series lead. Game 4 was the first game decided by more than one goal, and that was because of Henrik Sedin's empty-netter.

Yet Dumont -- and also Colin Wilson, who went in the lineup in Game 4 -- is a more offensive-minded player. Trotz has had to juggle his lines a great deal the last two games, and Game 5 will be no different. Dumont has played in only two games in this postseason, both coming when Martin Erat went out in the first-round with an upper-body injury. Dumont played just 6:59 in Game 5 in the first round and 5:37 in Game 6.

On the positive side, he has brought offense. He was the extra attacker when Nashville pulled Rinne while down a goal late in Game 5 in the first round and screened Ducks goalie Ray Emery on Shea Weber's score that led to the overtime victory. Dumont had an assist in Game 6 but also a bad penalty, which resulted in his getting benched.

When the lineup spot opened due to Sullivan's injury after Game 3 against the Canucks, Dumont, 33, was eager to get back in the lineup. He has 17 career playoff goals -- most among Predators.

However, Trotz opted to go instead with the 21-year-old Wilson for Game 4. Now it seems both will be in the lineup.

"Definitely been working hard, skating hard to get ourselves ready and I think it shows against Anaheim -- when we got the call, we were ready to go," Dumont said Wednesday. "So we're definitely ready to go, and like I said, you never want to see your teammate go down, but at the same time I want to play. Hopefully, I'm going to be in."

Looking for more offense in Game 4 Thursday, Trotz broke up his top line, which had been so successful in the first round, placing right wing Patric Hornqvist on the fourth line. He elevated Erat from the second line to play with center Mike Fisher and left wing Sergei Kostitsyn. Then he moved Matt Halischuk from the fourth line to take Erat's spot with David Legwand and Joel Ward on the second line.

The third line stayed intact -- until Smithson did not return for the second period, which scrambled everything thereafter -- and the fourth line was Hornqvist with rookie Blake Geoffrion and Wilson.

Even with Smithson's injury, Geoffrion played only 7:59 and Hornqvist, a 30-goal scorer last season, dipped to 10:05, which included 1:44 on the power play. That's down significantly from Hornqvist's playoff average of 16:02. With the injuries, Trotz might have to blow up all of his existing line combinations.

Meanwhile, Vancouver just seems to grow stronger with every game. Ryan Kesler has 3 goals in the last two games and goalie Roberto Luongo has been sharp. He has not yielded more than two goals in a game to Nashville in the series.

One of the turning points of Game 4 was a loss of discipline by Nashville's Ryan Suter, which resulted in a power play for Vancouver upon which the Canucks scored the game-winning goal.

Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said he and his coaches had to constantly remind Kesler and others of the need to remain disciplined. Defenseman Kevin Bieksa took a slashing call at the final whistle of the first period in Game 4 after he and Weber, who also was penalized, jousted.

"In tonight's game we had to remind them quite a few times to stay focused," Vigneault said following Game 4. "Sometimes it's hard on players. I thought our guys responded real well with what was happening. We're going to turn the page on this game and get ready for the next game."

That next game could land the Canucks in the Western Conference Finals for the first time in 17 years.
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