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Game Four: Preds vs. Blackhawks

by Thomas Willis & Brooks Bratten / Nashville Predators

  Game Four: Nashville Predators vs. Chicago Blackhawks (CHI Leads Series 2-1)
  8:30 P.M. | United Center
TV: FS-TN, NBCSN | Radio: 102.5 The Game | Nissan Pregame: 8 P.M.

The Nashville Predators look to even their Western Conference Quarterfinal series at two games apiece when they face the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Four tonight from the United Center at 8:30 p.m. CT.

The Preds are coming off a 4-2 loss in Game Three on Sunday afternoon in which they out shot the Hawks by a 37-30 margin and rallied twice to tie the game before Chicago scored two unanswered goals in the second period to pull ahead.

Scott Darling got the victory in net for Chicago after being named the Game Three starter over Corey Crawford. Darling stopped 28 shots in the win and will once again start for the Hawks tonight in Game Four.

Preds forward Mike Fisher, who left Game One with a lower-body injury and is day-to-day, joined his teammates on the ice for the latter portions of their practice session on Monday afternoon in Chicago. Forwards Mike Ribeiro, Viktor Stalberg and Gabriel Bourque did not skate and were given maintenance days.

Craig Smith recorded his second consecutive multi-point performance on Sunday, tallying assists on both Nashville goals to improve his playoff point total to five (2g-3a). Smith’s five points are tied with Chicago’s Jonathan Toews (2g-3a) for the most points in the playoffs. He is three points shy of the Preds record for most points in a single playoff series (Joel Ward, 4g-4a-8pts in 2011 Western Conference Semifinal vs. Vancouver).

The Madison, Wis., native’s two-point night came on the heels of his three-point performance (2g-1a) in Game Two. In Friday’s game, Smith became just the fourth Preds skater in franchise history to record a three-point playoff game and the fourth player in team history to record his first two playoff goals in the same contest.

Mattias Ekholm, who made his NHL playoff debut in Game One, recorded the first playoff point of his career, a goal, on Sunday in Chicago. Ekholm is the fourth Preds player making their postseason debut to record a goal in the series and the fifth to tally a point.

The Borlange, Sweden, native is averaging 24:22 time on ice, more than five minutes more than he averaged during the regular season (19:00) and is a League-leading +6.  

Mike Ribeiro recorded his first goal of the 2015 postseason, the second consecutive game that he has reached the scoresheet, bringing his playoff total to three points (1g-2a). With every Nashville skater tallying at least one hit, the Preds outhit Chicago 53-37, led by six from Craig Smith and five each from Seth Jones, Viktor Stalberg, Cody Franson and Victor Bartley.

Toews' five points lead the Blackhawks, while Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith have each tallied a goal and two assists. Marian Hossa has added four assists for Chicago, while Patrick Sharp has two goals in three games.


Bartley Steps In:

With the absence of Captain Shea Weber on the backend due to injury, the Nashville Predators have required someone to fill the vacant spot in the lineup. Defenseman Victor Bartley had his number called in Game Three for the Preds, skating alongside Cody Franson on the third pairing.

Bartley dished out five hits in 9:34 of ice time in Game Three, his first ever appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Players often discuss the difference in speed exhibited during a postseason contest, but Bartley made sure to stay levelheaded leading up to and during the game.

“Overall, I just tried not to get too focused or too amped up,” Bartley said. “Sometimes that happens, you almost get too over-focused, so I just wanted to come to the game and relax. As soon as that first shift happens, you kind of forget about everything, and then the speed of the game felt fast. It felt good to get out there and just hit some guys.”

Physicality is an element of Bartley’s game that tends to hover near the forefront when he’s on the ice. At this juncture of the season, that style fits just fine.

“It’s definitely the most fun time of the year right now,” Bartley said. “I absolutely love this time, it’s basically just an all-out war out there. It’s awesome, I like that style of play, so I’m definitely excited for it.”

Franson was impressed with his defensive partner’s output in Game Three,  especially considering the fact that Bartley was jumping into the middle of the series after being a healthy scratch in Games One and Two.

“I thought Barts looked great,” Franson said. “He was very solid, very physical and he moved the puck really well. He wasn’t nervous out there, he made all the right plays, he didn’t make any mistakes and for a guy playing in his first [playoff] game, that’s very impressive.”

For Bartley and the rest of his teammates, although they’re down 2-1 in the series heading into Game Four, confidence isn’t an issue. If the Preds have any say in the matter, it’ll be a best-of-three series heading back to Nashville.

“There’s no doubt in here right now, we’re an extremely confident team and we know how we need to play to be successful,” Bartley said. “We talked about some of the key issues we had after the last game, things that need to be corrected, and we talked about how they’re all fixable. They’re not things that are nagging problems, they’re things that we, as a team, can correct and that’s going to help us big time coming into Game Four tonight.”


Predators Game Day Video:

What to Watch for: Brent and Willy's Breakdown


Morning Skate Update:

The Predators morning skate did not provide a lot of answers for either the possible return of Mike Fisher or Kevin Fiala logging his first NHL postseason game. Both forwards skated in line rushes alongside lines already used on Sunday in Game Three. Fisher joined the second line along with Colin Wilson, Matt Cullen and James Neal, while Kevin Fiala was a part of the fourth line and Gabriel Bourque, Paul Gaustad and Taylor Beck.

Indications are that neither Fisher or Fiala will play tonight in Game Four, but no official word was given by Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette in his press conference following morning skate.

When asked about the possibility of Fisher suiting up for Tuesday’s contest, Laviolette said:

“He’s still listed as day-to-day. Mike will return at some point, but right now, he’s still listed as day-to-day.”

Shea Weber (lower-body) and Eric Nystrom (lower-body) will not play tonight. Below are the expected lineups for both clubs.

Game Four’s projected lineup:

Forwards:


Forsberg – Ribeiro – Smith
Wilson – Cullen – Neal
Santorelli – Jarnkrok – Stalberg
Bourque – Gaustad – Beck

Defensemen:

Josi – Jones
Ekholm – Ellis
Bartley – Franson

Scratches: Weber, Fisher, Fiala, Nystrom and Volchenkov

Goaltenders:

Pekka Rinne*
Carter Hutton

*Expected starter

Chicago Projected Lineup:

Blackhawks Head Coach Joel Quenneville confirmed on Monday that goaltender Scott Darling will make his second-straight start between the pipes tonight. Based on Chicago’s morning skate on Tuesday, it appears the Blackhawks will not have any lineup changes from Game Three for Game Four.

Forwards:

Saad – Toews – Hossa
Versteeg – Richards – Kane
Bickell – Vermette – Sharp
Desjardins – Kruger – Shaw

Defensemen:

Oduya – Hjalmarsson
Keith – Rozsival
Timonen – Seabrook

Goaltenders:

Scott Darling*
Corey Crawford

*Probable Starter


Quotables:

Peter Laviolette on the Predators effort level in the series:

“I don’t think they were holding anything back in [Games] One Two and Three. Playoffs are playoffs, and every game is its own individual identity. Our guys, they seem to give an honest effort, Game One they played hard, we didn’t get the results. It’s about the results in the playoffs…there are some things we talked about possibly doing better for Game Four, but I don’t think it was a lack of effort or energy or wanting to do well. I believe that they’ll bring a spirited game to the rink tonight, I believe that their heads and their energy will be in the right place and we’ll take on the Blackhawks. There’s a lot of confidence in our room that if we play a certain way and a certain style, that if we execute we can find success for sure. They’re all important, is game four important? You bet it’s important.”

Cody Franson on the magnitude of Game Four:

“This one’s big. We get this one, the series is even, home ice is back in our favor and we’re going home for Game Five. Any time you come into a segment like this where you’re going into the team's building for two, you try and get the split. We came up short in the first one, but if we can play solid tonight and do everything we want to do, we give ourselves a good chance to win. To come away with the win here, we’ll be in good shape going back to Nashville.”

Peter Laviolette on what the Preds need to do in front of Pekka Rinne:

“We feel like we’re a real good hockey team, and we have a chance to win every game. If I’m being honest, I'm probably [saying] this for maybe the fourth time today, I think there’s things that we as a group could’ve done better in front of him, and we’ll work to fix that tonight. Certainly, we have a lot of trust and a lot of faith in Pekka, he’s been terrific for us all year long, and I would expect our guys to be ready to go tonight."
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