It’s taken six months and 82 games to get to this point. Now the Nashville Predators have to wait a few more days.
The Preds will open their Western Conference Quarterfinal series on Friday night against the Anaheim Ducks in Southern California, as the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs get underway. And while it’ll be six days in between games for the Predators, they don’t mind the extra break.
“Maybe you have a few guys with some bumps and bruises, and it’s a good time to heal up and get some energy back,” center Ryan Johansen said after Monday’s practice at Centennial Sportsplex. “Then you can really throw them all we have when the time comes.”
Nashville will need their best against an Anaheim team who captured the Pacific Division title on Sunday night after finding themselves near the bottom of the League standings at Christmastime. A dramatic turnaround in the second half of the season saw them finish with 46 wins and 103 points overall, not to mention the NHL’s top-ranked power play and penalty kill.
There would’ve been challenges for the Preds no matter who the opponent turned out to be in Round One, but a date with Ducks is one the club is looking forward to playing out.
“They’re the best team in the League right now, and they’re a team a lot of people picked to come out of the West and compete for a Stanley Cup, and win a Stanley Cup,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “The second half of the year, they’ve played to that level of expectation. They’re a good hockey team, they’re well balanced.”
The Predators are hoping to build off last season’s playoff appearance, a 4-2 series defeat to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. Nashville lost Captain Shea Weber and veteran Mike Fisher to injuries during that time span, forcing inexperienced players to step up when it mattered most. According to Laviolette, that experience could pay dividends this time around.
“Last year was an important year for our guys,” Laviolette said. “I really liked the way our young guys played in the playoffs last year. I think that’s a valuable experience against a good hockey team, and we did a lot of good things. We came out on the wrong side of the series; that was disappointing, so there’s some things I think that experience-wise, we gained as a group last year.
“That doesn’t mean that we’re taking this next step or we’re not taking the next step; that’ll depend on what we do in California or when the Ducks come here, and that’s really what it comes down to. but the experience that we gained last year was good, we had a lot of young players.”
Johansen, who will be making his second career appearance in the playoffs, is expecting big things in the postseason, starting with himself. He and his teammates know there are plenty of factors when it comes to success at this time of year, and those things aren’t lost on those involved.
“We’re going to need everyone in here stepping up at different times, and when you look at any team that’s successful that goes far in playoffs and wins the Cup, they have a good amount of focus,” Johansen said. “I’ve got a high standard for myself going into these playoffs, and I’m sure our team and a lot of other guys in this room are putting some pressure on themselves to be those guys, because we believe in here that we have guys that can outplay other players.”
A Stanley Cup champion himself, Laviolette has said before there’s no set formula to make it through all four rounds. But what he does know is focus plays a large role in determining who finds success and who ends up on the wrong side of a handshake line.
“We’ll be ready for Game One, I can tell you that,” Laviolette said. “I don’t know if there’s a recipe for it; you can’t just draw something on the board and say, ‘if we do this, we’ll be fine.’ We’ve actually got to go play the games and do all those things that we talk about.”
The Predators know what they’re capable of as a group when they play the right way. A few more days will do them good in order to prepare adequately for what’s to come. But they can’t wait to arrive in Orange County, and they’ll be doing so with one goal in mind.
“We have full confidence in going out there and believing that we’re going to win two hockey games and eventually win the series,” Johansen said. “We’re going to take it one game at a time, and we’ll give them all they can handle and see what happens.”
News and Notes:
After dressing for Nashville’s season finale on Saturday, the Predators reassigned defenseman Corey Potter and goaltender Marek Mazanec to Milwaukee on Monday afternoon.
In addition, 2015 NHL Draft selection Anthony Richard was assigned to the Admirals with his season in the QMJHL concluding.
All skaters were present for Nashville’s practice on Monday, including forward Miikka Salomaki, who has missed the last three games due to injury. Nashville’s forward lines looked like this during the session:
| ||Forwards || |
|Calle Jarnkrok ||Ryan Johansen ||James Neal |
|Filip Forsberg ||Mike Ribeiro ||Craig Smith |
|Colin Wilson ||Mike Fisher ||Viktor Arvidsson |
|Mikka Salomaki ||Paul Gaustad ||Cody Bass |
|Eric Nystrom ||Colton Sissons ||Austin Watson |
Shot of the Day: