The idea of the playoffs returning to Bridgestone Arena became much more of a reality on Tuesday.
In the locker room following their practice, the Nashville Predators knew the next time they’d lace up their skates would be just before taking to the ice amongst gold-enveloped stands on a postseason game day. The anticipation was palpable.
With the reality that Games One and Two of their series with the Chicago Blackhawks will take place at home - where the Preds were simply dominant in 2014-15 - sinking in, the club reflected on the competitive advantage afforded them.
“It’s huge, playing in front of our fans is always a good thing and we know our fans are going to be crazy [Wednesday] night,” Nashville defenseman Roman Josi said. “They’re excited, we’re excited. It’s definitely a big thing to play at home.”
Preds first-year Head Coach Peter Laviolette is also anxiously awaiting his first game behind the bench for a playoff game in Music City. What the bench boss has seen before from the team’s fans has him excited for what’s to come.
“It’ll be my first experience too with playoff hockey in Nashville,” Laviolette said. “I’m looking forward to it, our fans have been outstanding and they’ve been behind us 100 percent. There have been lots of good times, they’ve been through tough games as well, but they’ve been there. They’ve been supportive with a great atmosphere in the building.
“Playoff hockey…it ramps up in the playoffs and in the atmosphere in the building as well, so it should be great.”
A win on home ice Wednesday night would not only put the Predators in the driver’s seat in their series, but would also help to reverse a tough stretch to finish the regular season in their own barn. After claiming two home winning streaks of at least six games during their 41-game set in Nashville, the Predators concluded the campaign with a 0-2-2 mark at Bridgestone Arena.
“We had a tough stretch at home recently, so that would be a good boost for us,” blueliner Mattias Ekholm said. “Any playoff game is so important, but since we are starting at home it could build some confidence for the series. You always want to get the first win, that would be awesome.”
Indeed it would. According to TSN Research, a home team that wins Game One goes on to win the playoff series 70 percent of the time.
Combos & Pairings:
Wearing a white (non-contact) jersey, defenseman Cody Franson (upper-body, day-to-day) joined the team for practice on Tuesday. Forward Kevin Fiala, recalled from the Milwaukee Admirals on Monday, skated in practice for the second-straight day. Blueliner Joe Piskula, who joined the Predators for their game in Dallas on an emergency recall, participated in Tuesday’s session, but was reassigned later in the afternoon.
Winger Eric Nystrom did not participate in practice and remains out with a lower-body injury.
Center Mike Fisher (lower-body, day-to-day) took the majority of reps on the second line with James Neal, while Mike Santorelli and Colin Wilson joined Fisher in a rotation on the forward unit.
Tuesday's lineup looked like this:
Forsberg – Ribeiro – Smith
Wilson – Fisher/Santorelli – Neal
Cullen – Jarnkrok – Stalberg
Bourque – Gaustad – Beck
Josi – Weber
Ekholm – Ellis
Volchenkov – Jones
Bartley – Franson/Piskula
Taylor Beck on the team’s excitement level preceding Game One:
“For a lot of us, it’s our first playoff game and we’re really excited, especially with this group of guys. We’ve had a great couple practices the last couple days, and we touched up a lot of things that we needed to work on. We’re ready to go for sure.”
Matt Cullen on how the Predators and Blackhawks match up:
“To me, it’s two teams that are pretty similar in how they play. I think it’s going to be a really exciting brand of hockey, it’s going to be up and down the ice. You have two teams that are pretty good at creating offensive opportunities, so it should be a good series. We know it’s going to be a battle. They’re a team that’s been there, so they know what to expect and they’re a veteran team that has a lot of experience in these situations. We know we’re going to have to have our best game to get a win.”
Cody Franson on the Preds’ comfort level with the Blackhawks:
“I think we’re well-prepared. We’ve gone over some film and talked about some things that make us very aware of the opponent we’re playing and what we have to do to try and be successful against them. To get that time to go over things in meetings and through practice and then take it into games is important.”