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Four Things for Preds vs. Ducks Game Five

With Ryan Johansen Out, Preds Want Better Start in Pivotal Game Five

by Thomas Willis @TomAWillis / Digital Manager & Producer

Injured Preds: The Predators know they'll face a pivotal Game Five without the services of their leading scorer in Ryan Johansen, who will miss the remainder of the postseason with a thigh injury suffered in Game Four. They'll also have to wait and see on the services of their captain, Mike Fisher, who Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said was under evaluation after exiting Game Four early.

That news hasn't dampened Nashville's resolve going into Saturday's contest in Anaheim, however, with the Western Conference Final all square at 2-2.

Here are three things for the Preds to keep in mind as they prepare for Game Five:

Video: Neal, Arvidsson and Weber discuss Game 5 vs. Ducks

Better Start: Despite winning their first six home contests of the postseason, the Predators first-period goal differential stands at -1 (scoring a single time in seven games).

Nashville was forced to rally to win in three of their first six home games - and evened the score late in home game No. 7 as well - but suffered their first overtime loss of the playoffs in Game Four as the Anaheim Ducks knotted the Western Conference Final at two games apiece.

Viktor Arvidsson, Matt Irwin, Pekka Rinne, et al, commented following the Game Four defeat that it was the Preds' slow start that made them have to play on life support for nearly the entire contest. A better - or even just an equal start - and the Predators' two regulation goals may have been enough for a win, rather than only a tie after 60 minutes of play.

"You watch all teams in the playoffs, at some point you're not happy with something, a period, a game, whatever it might be," Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "The fact that we were able to bounce back in the second and the third and get back into the game, I think, showed strength in our club. [We still have] that confidence and belief that we can come from behind and still be successful."

Nashville has been noticeably better on the road in first periods, possibly because of an added focus due to the pressures felt in an opponent's barn. The Preds hold a +4 goal differential in the first period in seven road games while scoring seven times.

"It's in their building. They're definitely going to be motivated and ready to go," blueliner Yannick Weber said. "So we'll have to be ready as well. But we know that once we use our speed and our attack mode, we can work this, too.

All-Time in Game Five: The significance of a Game Five victory when a series is tied 2-2 has been substantial over the years.

Teams that win Game Five in an even series hold an all-time series record of 198-54; they're also 5-0 in the 2017 postseason in that circumstance. Nashville was able to win their 2016 Round One Series with the Ducks after dropping Game Five in a 2-2 series, but that's not a path the club would choose for themselves at this point.

"It's 2-2. Nothing's going to be easy," winger James Neal said. "That's why it's the hardest trophy to win in sports. And we should be confident in our group. We have a chance to go in their rink, win a game, and come back with a chance to win in our home building. So put a smile on our face, enjoy it, get ready, and feel good about a tough game in their rink and what can come from that."

The Predators hold a 6-3 all-time postseason record at Honda Center (across three series), including winning Game One of this year's conference final in overtime. The visitors also looked poised to take the first two at Honda Center for the second consecutive season when they held a 2-0 lead in Game Two, but let the Ducks score four times in an 18-minute span to tie the series at 1-1.

The first-period performances have been excellent for Nashville in Anaheim, both in this postseason and in the past, the question now becomes, can they extend those strong starts into the final two frames?

The Normal Level: The main reason for optimism for Nashville in Game Five is actually that they didn't play their best in Game Four.

In the third period of Game Four, the Preds looked like the team that hasn't lost back-to-back games in the playoffs and the one that dominated the Blackhawks and Blues en route to the Western Conference Final. In the first period or even two? Not so much.

Nashville was held to only two shots in the first period and even though they rebounded some in the middle frame, they still lost the battle that matters, with Ducks forward Nick Ritchie getting the only goal. However, more often than not - and that includes against the Ducks - the Predators have looked dynamic offensively all playoffs.

"If you look at the second and third period and even parts of overtime, I thought we were the better team," Weber said. "We used our strength. We used our speed, and we definitely got them on their heels. It's good to know that in every game we have parts where we're dominating… So I think we have tons of confidence going into Game Five."

The goal now is returning to the form the Preds exhibited the first 10 playoff games or so in a pivotal Game Five on Saturday evening.

"They're a good team, so we know every game's going to be a battle," defenseman P.K. Subban said following Game Four. "I think if there's a positive that we showed tonight, it's that when we want to play our game we can't be stopped. I thought we did a good job in the third period of battling back and giving ourselves an opportunity to win the game."

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