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Postseason Practice Update: April 20

by Thomas Willis / Nashville Predators

Mattias Ekholm summed up the Nashville Predators prevailing sentiment on Monday, a day removed from a 4-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Three:

“We [need to] keep playing like we have been; I feel like we’ve played pretty well all series,” the Preds blueliner said. “The first game could have gone either way with OT there. Unfortunately, we lost that, but I think we’re still positive and we feel like we can beat them here. With an even series, we have home ice again, so a it’s big game tomorrow.”

With the Western Conference Quarterfinals series at 2-1 in favor of Chicago, the Predators have chosen to focus on the opportunity before them and the positive aspects of their play during the first three games with Game Four upcoming on Tuesday. For example, an offense clicking at 3.67 goals per game (tops in the NHL in the postseason), quality play 5-on-5 and a general affinity toward their team effort in each game has the Preds believing they’re set to again tie the series.

“We’ve got a great team, and we’ve shown we can beat any team all year,” Preds forward James Neal said. “Of course we’re underdogs, but we don’t mind that, we’ve been like that a lot, so we’ll be fine. We’ll come out with a big effort tomorrow and have a great game.”

A victory on Tuesday and the Predators would have to be considered to be in the driver’s seat. Home ice advantage would be restored to Nashville, with the series a best-of-three and Games Five and Seven* (*if necessary) coming at Bridgestone Arena.

But to give themselves that opportunity, the Predators must first find a way to best the Hawks netminder who has emerged from the shadows to win Games One and Three for Chicago. Three of Scott Darling’s 16 games in the NHL have come against the Predators, and he’s won them all.

The former backup’s 3-0-0 record (two wins in the postseason) against Nashville, 0.96 goals-against average and .973 save percentage are daunting, but nothing that should change the Preds approach, according to Nashville defenseman Roman Josi.

“I thought he was pretty good yesterday; he looked solid in net, but that’s nothing we can’t overcome,” Josi said of Darling. “We’ve just got to get a lot of shots at the net and put traffic in front of him.”

“He’s been playing really good, and he’s a big guy so we have to take his eyes away,” Preds forward Filip Forsberg said. “He covers a lot on the ice and if we can just try to be a little harder in front, we can have success.”

Nashville will get their next chance at Darling in Game Four with Blackhawks Head Coach Joel Quenneville announcing Monday that the goaltender will get his second-straight start.

“We just have to get back on the horse and get going again, work the pucks down low and hopefully we can get a win,” Ekholm said. “With a victory, it’s an even series and we have home ice again, so it’s still open in my mind.”


Combos & Pairings:

Three forwards missed the entirety of Monday’s skate at Johnny’s Ice House. Mike Ribeiro, Gabriel Bourque and Viktor Stalberg did not suit up for the session and took maintence days.

Mike Fisher (lower-body, day-to-day) was absent for the majority of the session, but took to the ice as practice was winding down accompanied by Strength and Conditioning Coach David Good. After a few spins and cuts at center ice, Fisher joined the remaining forwards on the ice for shots and one-timers.

Monday was the center’s first time on the ice since leaving in the second period of Game One with a lower-body injury. Although his participation seemed limited during the approximately 30-minute session, the Predators have not ruled out the center returning to play in Game Four on Tuesday.

Shea Weber (lower-body) and Eric Nystrom (lower-body) did not make the trip to the Windy City and are not expected to play in Game Four at 8:30 p.m. (CT) at the United Center.

No formal line rushes were shown at the practice, but below are the team’s most recent combinations used in Game Three on Sunday:

Sunday’s (Game Three) lineup was as follows:

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


Quotables:

Mattias Ekholm on how Game Three went for the Preds:

“I don’t think we played a poor game at all, I still think we could have won the game. But we didn’t play well enough to be 100 percent sure we’d win it, and we didn’t. We’ve got to skate really hard, battle a little harder and get pucks in deep. They’re tough games, it’s tight, they don’t give a lot of space out there. We’ve got to bring our A-game and bring some speed and energy and get pucks deep.”

James Neal on responding to the Preds being down 2-1 in the series:

“Every game I think [the intensity] raises, you’ve got to play as if your backs are against the wall every game. We’ve done that pretty well all year. We’ve got a good group, and we’ve responded well to adversity when things don’t go right, so guys are excited. We had a good little skate today and we’ll get back at it tomorrow.”

Peter Laviolette on what the Predators mindset was entering their series with the Hawks:

“Our expectation was to be successful in the regular season, and now it’s to be successful in the playoffs. I think our guys have proved themselves all year long. We’re looking to keep playing good hockey. This series has been a good series and we’re looking forward to tomorrow.”


Shot of the Day:



Photo credit: Pete Weber

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