After a day off on Sunday, the Nashville Predators returned to work Monday morning to prepare for their first contest of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Chicago Blackhawks will make their way to town to face the Preds on Wednesday night in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals at Bridgestone Arena, and for Head Coach Peter Laviolette, the anticipation of what’s to come is plentiful at this time of the year.
“It’s exciting; it’s what you work so hard for all year long,” Laviolette said after Monday’s practice. “Everybody, players, fans, there’s a sense of excitement that comes with that and that’s a good thing. I wouldn’t necessarily call it jitters, unless there’s too much coffee, then maybe there’s a jitter. I think everybody gets excited.”
That excitement was evident on the ice and in the room post-practice, with the Predators echoing the same sentiment: Wednesday night can’t come soon enough.
“This is a game that keeps you humble; you have your ups and downs, but you get into the playoffs and you feel those butterflies,” goaltender Pekka Rinne said. “You get out there and you feel the crowd, you feel everything…I’m excited to [have] that feeling again.”
“I’m very excited,” defenseman Seth Jones, who is slated to make his first career postseason appearance, said. “It should be an awesome experience, and it’s cool that I get to experience something like this so early in my career.”
Laviolette knows that with the excitement also comes the challenge of facing a Chicago team that has won the Stanley Cup twice in the past five seasons.
“I think our group has proven that we can play and beat anybody in the League,” Laviolette said. “We have to play with a certain style and certain identity, and when we do that, we can find success. But we also recognize that no matter who we got in the first round, they were going to be a tough matchup.”
And as it has been all season long, it’s one day, one game, one period, one shift at a time.
“The best thing for our team to do is stay where we’ve been all year and just focus on the one game, do our best to prepare for it and go out and play our game,” Laviolette said. “And I feel like if we do that, we’ll just live right in the moment on Wednesday night and not worry about the series or getting too far ahead of ourselves.
“That’s the way we’ve been all year; we haven’t looked back too much, we haven’t looked forward too much, our guys have done a really good job of just staying on point. That’s probably the message that will continue to happen in our room.”
Combos & Pairings:
Prior to Monday’s practice, the Predators recalled forward Kevin Fiala from Milwaukee. Fiala was on the ice for the session, as were defensemen Shea Weber and Roman Josi, who were both out for Saturday’s contest in Dallas.
Forward Mike Fisher, who remains listed as day-to-day, attended the early portions of practice before returning to the locker room. Defenseman Cody Franson, also day-to-day, did not practice. Forward Eric Nystrom remains out with a lower-body injury and did not skate.
Monday’s configurations looked like this:
Forsberg – Ribeiro – Smith (Fiala)
Wilson – Fisher (day-to-day) – Neal (Santorelli)
Cullen – Jarnkrok – Stalberg
Bourque – Gaustad – Beck
Weber – Josi
Ekholm – Ellis
Volchenkov – Jones
Bartley – Piskula
Peter Laviolette on preparing for a playoff opponent:
“What’s great about the playoffs compared to the regular season, it actually gives you two to three days to focus and crack down on one opponent, where during the regular season, it changes from night to night. After the first game is over [in the playoffs], you can stay focused on the same opponent and figure out what’s wrong, as opposed to switching completely to a different team and looking to try and prepare for a different team. There’s a lot of time right now and we’re going through a process internally to try and prepare for the Blackhawks.”
Viktor Stalberg on facing his former team in the playoffs:
"It's been two years so we are kind of far removed from it, but at the same time there's a lot of the guys that I played with that are still over there. They're a great team. They've got experience at winning. We're comfortable with their game and we're excited to get this going here. It's been a long couple weeks knowing this is coming, but we're ready to get started.
Matt Cullen on Peter Laviolette helping his team in the playoffs:
“He’s a good coach. He’s got a pretty good feel for what the team needs. He’s going to do what he does and it’s worked for our team all year. We’re all so excited to get in there and play and he is too. We’re all just looking forward to it.”