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Preds First Line Turning in Dominant Performance

Line of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson Has Clearly Led Preds to 3-0 Series Lead Over Chicago

by Thomas Willis @TomAWillis / Digital Manager & Producer

"This is the first time I've ever played this well with a line."

Viktor Arvidsson's claim on the surface may feel a bit brazen, but even a brief dive into the numbers show just how right the winger is - especially considering the performance he and his linemates turned in during the Predators overtime win in Game Three.

A Corsi-For percentage of 76.19 percent appears for the Preds first line in Game Three, meaning the trio of Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg were maintaining possession and driving shots toward the Blackhawks' net at a rarely seen clip and regardless of their opposition.

There are much more apparent numbers as well, of course. Forsberg - and the first line - scored twice in the third period to claw the home team back from a two-goal deficit and force overtime. They also led the Nashville charge that began in earnest coming out of the second intermission with the 5-on-5 Corsi numbers for the Preds climbing again and again throughout the final period and especially in the extra session.

Affectionately called the "JOFA line" after a combination of the players initials and in reference to the once often-worn hockey helmet, the metrics have only gotten stronger for the trio after a so-so Game One (even in which they scored the contest's only goal).

Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette says the postseason results can't come as much of a surprise after the line's regular-season success, featuring a score-adjusted Corsi of 59.3 percent, the second-highest in the NHL with a minimum of 400 minutes played. But even he expected more from the line after Game One, and he's gotten it.

"I think just how we support each other on the ice is great," Johansen said. "We've really found that chemistry. I was just talking to my dad this morning actually, and he was just talking about a few little things where he noticed the chemistry just in the offensive zone. He noticed how we're all in set positions it seems like every single time we have the puck in the O-zone.

"We all know where exactly we're going to be. I think it's a good time for us to be connecting like that and know where the other is on the ice. We feel good as a line right now and are feeling some confidence and being able to have success out there."

Video: CHI@NSH, Gm3: Forsberg crashes net, beats Crawford

That chemistry is easy to pick up on, even when tuning into just a few minutes of a Preds game. With the Hawks taking a 2-0 advantage into the third period on Monday night, the contest, traditionally, should have been all but over. Until earlier this season, Chicago had gone more than three years without losing a game in regulation when leading after two periods (were 78-0-5 and were a combined 62-0-4 in 2014-16).

If there was going to be a hero for the Preds, it was going to have to be the JOFA line. Or Joey-Fil-A line, if you prefer - it's a personal favorite.

"We battle hard," Arvidsson said. "We've fought back in games before this year, and I feel like we did that last night. We were playing with a lot of confidence after we won two games in Chicago, but it's the playoffs, you [can't] be too easy on things. You have to have your feet on the ground and work hard, that's what's going to make you successful."

Video: CHI@NSH, Gm3: Forsberg nets second goal to tie game

The Preds got the bounce they needed at 4:24 of the third when Forsberg tapped in a puck that rebounded off the endwall stanchion and back out in front of the net. Ten minutes later, the Swedish winger sent a rebound chance back toward the cage that also beat Corey Crawford.

After a review for goaltender interference determined the goal was good, Arvidsson couldn't contain his excitement on the bench.  

"I guess just going back to us all being buddies, I think it definitely helps with communication and things like that," Johansen said. "It's fun coming to the rink each day and playing with those two and growing together. It's good that we all get along really well, and we're all pretty easy-going, humble guys so it's not too hard to get along with those two."

Johansen even jokes he'll have to learn Swedish this summer since it appears the two-thirds Swedish first line for Nashville isn't going away anytime soon.

"Since the line got put together - midway through the season - I think we've just been building and building throughout the year," Forsberg said. "We want to play our best hockey right now, and we have to. Chicago is playing really well right now. We're going to have to improve even more, and we're looking forward to doing that. I think all three of us just take a lot of pride in trying to get better and trying to work hard."

As to why the possession metrics are so good for the line, Forsberg says the seemingly odd union of the three players' playing style has proved to be a near-perfect recipe. That's two parts Swedish, one-part Energy Bunny (as Johansen calls Arvidsson), one-part sniper (Forsberg) and one-part passer ("He's one of the best passers in the NHL," says Forsberg of Johansen).

"[We] just try to attack the game, I think that's the biggest thing," Forsberg said. "All three of us want to play offense, want to go onto the attack. Me and Joey are bigger guys, we try to hold onto the puck and Arvi is one of the best skaters in the League, so whenever we're in trouble we just send it into the zone and he'll go get it."

And whenever the Preds are in trouble, they know who to call as well. Just like they did on Monday night.

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