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Importance of Depth Scoring Not Going Unnoticed

Cody McLeod, Harry Zolnierczyk and Vernon Fiddler Have All Chipped in Timely Goals for Nashville

by John Glennon @glennonsports / glennonsports@gmail.com

Through the first three weeks of playoff hockey, the Nashville Predators have been the Western Conference's dominant team - sweeping top-seeded Chicago, winning six of seven games overall and surrendering a League-low 10 goals along the way.

It would be easy to believe that lineup consistency has played a big part in the Preds' steamroll, that one single-minded set of players has routinely taken it to opponents night after night.

But that's hardly been the case.

Instead, the Preds' seven-game surge has showcased the team's depth at forward, necessitated by a number of playoff injuries that have scrambled the postseason lineup.

The Predators have already used 24 players in the playoffs - tied with Anaheim for the most in the League. But every player that's stepped into the lineup has contributed in some way, shape or form.

Nashville leads the NHL with 13 postseason goal-scorers, and the Preds have already picked up at least a point from 18 players - second-most in the playoffs behind the New York Rangers.

The Preds' depth has been tested "more so now than ever - losing various guys throughout the playoff run," Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "But I've said it before - it's about everybody, not just one or two guys. Everyone has to compete. Everyone has to chip in. That's how we got the job done."

Video: STL@NSH, Gm3: McLeod sends home his own rebound

The good news for the Predators is that the team's defensive corps - its bedrock - has yet to miss any playoff games due to injury.

But the same can't be said for the forwards, where Laviolette has used 17 different players to fill 12 spots. The Preds haven't used the same set of forwards in any of the last four games.

All of this comes after a relatively healthy regular season, one that saw the Predators finish in the middle of the pack when it came to man-games lost.

"(Depth) is being tested, no question," Predators Captain Mike Fisher said. "It's one of those things where guys are in and out of the lineup - that's playoffs. But we've had guys come in and do a good job, and we'll continue to need those guys to come in and be really good for us."

The Preds' first postseason injury challenge came when Colin Wilson missed the team's opening series against Chicago with a lower-body injury. He's returned, but the Predators have since lost Kevin Fiala (broken leg), Craig Smith (lower-body injury), Pontus Aberg (upper-body injury) and - for one game - Calle Jarnkrok (lower-body injury).

But the Predators' storylines have been more about the production of those inserted into the lineup than about the impact of those lost.

Video: NSH@CHI, Gm2: Zolnierczyk goes bar-down on breakaway

Who, for instance, could have guessed that 29-year-old Harry Zolnierczyk - in the lineup because of Wilson's injury - would have scored his first career playoff goal to spark a big Game Two victory over Chicago in the First Round?

Along the same lines, Vernon Fiddler - who made his 2017 playoff debut against St. Louis due to Jarnkrok's injury - came through with the game-winning goal in last Wednesday's Game One over the Blues.

Then there's tough-guy Cody McLeod, who didn't play at all in the Preds' sweep of Chicago, but who's averaged almost five hits per game in three contests against the Blues. It was McLeod whose backhand shot past Blues goalie Jake Allen proved to be the game-winner in the Preds' 3-1 victory on Sunday.

The Preds' fourth line of McLeod, Colton Sissons and Miikka Salomaki contributed one goal, two assists and a plus-five rating Sunday in a win that gave the Preds a 2-1 series lead over St. Louis.

Video: NSH@STL, Gm1: Fiddler chips in late go-ahead goal

"I think at this time of year, you need everybody helping out," McLeod said. "Especially when (the first line) is getting checked so hard, we have to step up our game. Anytime we can be a plus line or chip one in, it's obviously going to help."

As good as the feisty McLeod may have felt after scoring for the third time in 27 career playoff games, it paled in compared to the reaction the goal brought from his coach and teammates.

When the self-sacrificing scrappers of the hockey world - like McLeod, Zolnierczyk and Fiddler - score big playoff goals, it not only highlights the Predators' depth, but creates extra electricity on the bench.

The stern-faced Laviolette, for instance, even acknowledged he might have cracked a smile.

"When a guy like that gets a goal, it's hard not to be happy for him," Laviolette said. "A guy like that, who will do anything for his teammates - he'll hit everybody, he'll fight, he'll defend any of his teammates - when he's able to factor into a goal like that, everybody's happy for him."

Another example of the next man up refusing to let the Predators down.

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