These three remaining outings, at Colorado on Tuesday, home against Minnesota Thursday and then at Dallas to finish up on Saturday, will play just a part in determining Nashville’s opponent in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
But the Preds will take things one game at a time, as they’ve done all season, as the final week of the regular season begins. All they’re worried about is their own performance with the playoffs looming.
“[This week is] going to be really fun, first of all,” forward Filip Forsberg said. “There are two teams [Chicago and St. Louis] within two points up top [in the Central Division] and obviously they play each other, so we’ve got this in our hands. We’re just going to try and play as good as we can, get a good feeling for the playoffs and hopefully win these three games.”
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “We’ve worked so hard to make the playoffs, but really that’s about it, we haven’t accomplished anything as a group yet. Everybody has to continue to shine and do their thing and find ways to be successful because the most important time of year is coming up.”
Combos & Pairings:
Paul Gaustad (upper-body) and Mike Santorelli (illness) rejoined the team for Monday’s practice at Bridgestone Arena. Gaustad missed Saturday’s game after receiving a hit to the head last Tuesday, while Santorelli was a late scratch after coming down with an illness.
Eric Nystrom (lower-body) was the only Predators skater absent from the session.
Monday’s lineup looked like this:
Forsberg – Ribeiro – Neal
Wilson – Fisher – Smith
Stalberg – Jarnkrok – Cullen
Bourque – Gaustad – Beck – Santorelli
Josi – Weber
Ekholm – Jones
Ellis – Franson
Extra: Volchenkov – Bartley
Bartley Tries Out Forward:
Maybe playing forward in the NHL isn’t as difficult as it seems?
After all, Victor Bartley, a defenseman, tried the position on Saturday versus Dallas, and on Monday, forward Matt Cullen said that playing up front doesn’t necessarily require a lot of mental dexterity.
“You don’t have to have any brains to play on the wing, I told him. So he did a good job with it, he fits that bill perfectly,” Cullen said laughing. “He did really well. He had a big hit there, and he made some good plays with the puck.”
Not long before the Preds contest against the Stars, Bartley discovered he’d being filling in at the new position with Mike Santorelli out due to illness. The Maple Ridge, British Columbia, native had previously logged all 109 of his NHL games at defense until this past weekend, but the Predators coaching staff thought Bartley’s hard-hitting game and defensive awareness would be a welcome addition to Nashville’s fourth line.
Once he figured out how to play the “easy” position, No. 64 proved them right.
“I was a little nervous to actually start the game there,” Bartley said. “Basically every time I went on the ice, I said, ‘All right, [Gabriel] Bourque, what am I doing here?’ And then he just kind of relayed the message over to me every time. It was fun out there. Got to go out there and hit some bodies.”
Contrary to Cullen’s less-than-serious take on skating at his own, and Bartley’s new position, the consensus from the Predators seemed to be that they were impressed by not only Bartley’s play but his versatility to jump in and help the team.
“He was really good,” winger Taylor Beck said of Bartley. “He was good on the forecheck and made some big hits on their D. Any time you can wear down the defense it’s big, and he did a good job in our own zone of chipping pucks out too.”
“I thought he did a terrific job,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “D-zone coverage and even just getting it on the forecheck, he’s a physical guy. He found himself out there against their top line a few times, and I thought he did a good job. [His line] had good success of getting the puck in the offensive zone early on and with his pace, I thought he played well.”
So whether Bartley adjusting to a new role after spending years in another one was difficult or not, there’s little question that he made it look a little easier than it actually was. Simple enough, in fact, that some of Bartley’s fellow members of the defensive corps were a little jealous of his promotion.
“I would love to play forward personally, but not all of us can do it, I guess,” D-man Seth Jones said with a smirk. “He looked pretty good up there.”
Bartley isn’t worried about the Preds blueliners catching him, however. Following his four-hit performance against Dallas, he’s already moved on to the next big thing.
“Absolutely, I’d do it again,” Bartley said. “Next time I’d be a centermen though, I think. I’m pretty good on draws, so…”
Ribeiro in the 500 Club:
James Neal may have deposited the game-tying goal on Saturday night against Dallas with 1:55 to play in regulation, but it was Mike Ribeiro’s pass to No. 18 in Gold that made it happen, and a meaningful one at that.
The dish was Ribeiro’s 500th assist in his NHL career, a telling sign of the Nashville forward’s otherworldly play-making ability that has been on display time and time again throughout his 15-year career, becoming one of just 135 players in League history to achieve the feat.
“It’s nice now to be able to reach it,” a humble Ribeiro said after Monday’s practice. “Now it’s done, and I can just keep focusing on playing, but obviously it’s nice to reach it and hopefully I can keep dishing the puck.”
Neal and teammate Filip Forsberg have been two of the biggest beneficiaries of having Ribeiro feeding pucks to them throughout the season. In fact, Ribeiro and Forsberg have both reached the 60-point plateau this season, the first time that Nashville has had even a single 60-point player since the 2008-09 campaign.
“I’m just trying to be ready for the puck all the time because you never know when he’s going to get it to you,” Forsberg said of Ribeiro. “He’s so smart, and he sees stuff that not that many people in this League do. Just being able to play with him, it’s obviously helped me a lot to just get better and get used to this League and it’s been a pleasure so far.”
“He’s been rock solid,” Laviolette said of Ribeiro. “He’s been such a nice addition to our team in the sense that he brings a veteran presence to the way he plays the game. Certainly his on-ice skills, I think everybody has gotten a chance to see that. The game-tying goal the other night is a perfect example of Mike just making plays in the offensive zone and getting to a point where he could attempt to score a goal, but clearly he found a better option.”
Ribeiro was quick to compliment his fellow forwards for their ability to make his passes worthwhile by putting the puck over the goal line.
“If those guys don’t score, then all my assists don’t count,” Ribeiro quipped. “Those guys mean everything. They can shoot, they find holes, they know how to score and it makes my job easier…At the end of the day, it’s harder to score goals than pass the puck, so all the credit goes to them to be able to find holes, shoot and score most of the time. It’s just nice to be playing with guys like that.”
“Five-hundred apples is amazing,” Forsberg said. “Not many guys that are able to do that and it’s really awesome to be a part of that.”
Mike Ribeiro on the feeling heading into the final week of the regular season:
“We need to play and we need to get playoff ready. I think we kind of dipped down a bit after we clinched. We played four solid games against top teams; Montreal, Tampa, Washington and then we clinched it with Washington and we kind of dipped down a bit. Maybe just mentally knowing you clinched it, you kind of let your guard down a bit, but for these next three games, it’s going to be huge to start playing in the playoffs. We have to be playing solid defensively, manage the puck, play physical and play a full 60 minutes and really get to that mindset of the playoffs right now.”
Peter Laviolette on Filip Forsberg regaining his offensive touch:
“I think he went through a point there where he maybe hit a little bit of a wall; it was a tough stretch. That can be tough for all players, especially a young one going through it for the first time. Last game, I thought Filip was a really impactful player for us. You can tell he’s got a little pop in his step and his stickwork is just a little quicker with the puck. That’s a positive sign for what we’ve seen from him at the beginning of the year.”
Ryan Ellis on Victor Bartley playing forward:
“He played really well up there. To be called upon like that, and kind of thrust in that position, he did a great job for us. He plays physical, he plays hard and that’s what we ask from him. I’d like to play forward here and there. But I’m happy to play D, I’m comfortable playing D. I used to play forward in the past, it was fun. If we need him again up there, I think he’d be a good fit for it.”