Game. Travel. Game. Travel.
The previous 25 days have been nothing if not predictable for the Nashville Predators. Approximately 17,000 miles traversed and nearly a dozen trips to California and back over the three-week span have defined the club’s postseason journey. That is up until the two days prior to their chance to play for a spot in the franchise’s first Western Conference Final.
The exhausting cycle of flying and playing ended in an ever-so-short respite on Tuesday, the first day off for the Predators in close to a month; mere hours removed from their overtime triumph in Game Six, which forced a winner-take-all clash in San Jose on Thursday night (8 p.m. CT; TV coverage on NBCSN).
Relief intermingled with somewhat-humorous confusion for several of the Preds players as they woke up on Tuesday morning, unsure of what to do next.
“It was a little weird feeling to wake up and not have to do anything. [I was] just waiting to go to the plane, I guess,” winger Filip Forsberg said, laughing. “We needed that, and I’m happy we got that [rest].”
Ryan Johansen’s dog, Doug, received a few extra scratches between the ears thanks to his keeper’s time away from the rink. The centerman said he too was appreciative of some down time with man’s best friend.
Life’s little moments aside, the Predators are hoping 24 hours not spent on the ice or at 35,000 feet will fuel their up-tempo style in Game Seven and allow them to replicate their execution in three home victories during their Round Two series.
“I can tell you that we thoroughly enjoyed it; the players enjoyed it and they got a break from the grind, the mental grind, the physical grind, the travel grind, and just a chance to relax for a day and we’ve not had that,” Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “I can tell you as far as a break mentally and physically on your body, it was really important.”
“If we had traveled all day today and then played tonight, it would have been difficult,” Johansen said. “You can see it in the guys’ faces this morning, that we benefitted from it already. It was nice to just get in a skate and a practice and not have to worry about playing a game tonight. We got to take a day and a moment to just enjoy the situation that we’re in and be able refresh a little bit and focus on the game tomorrow.”
Rest is the outstanding difference between the Preds’ results in Games Four and Five. In the fourth matchup of the series, Nashville prevailed in triple overtime, but in Game Five back in San Jose - after another day of travel followed by a game - the team from Music City looked flat, while outputting likely their worst 60 minutes of the series. History has shown the winner of a triple-OT contest often loses the next playoff game, and the Predators were no different. But this time, coming off yet another overtime win, the Predators say an extra day to study game film, and most importantly, rest, should help to level the playing field with a Sharks club that has won all three home games in the Round Two meeting (and four straight overall).
“It’s been a grind since Day One, so to get a day off was good for everyone to reset and focus on this one game,” Mike Ribeiro explained. “It comes so fast, the day off is over already and now it’s today. We’ll need our best tomorrow.”
Miikka Salomaki, who assisted on the game-winning score in Game Six (the third elimination game for Nashville already), says the rest has brought seemingly all factors back to square one. Now his team simply has to do what they did a round prior: win a Game Six at home followed by a Game Seven triumph on the road.
“We did it once, and we feel like we can do it again,” Salomaki said. “We know if we play our best game, we can beat anyone. We did it once, so why not again?”