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Smith Leading Preds, Looking for Game Four Turnaround

by Brooks Bratten / Nashville Predators

Craig Smith was one of the leading point-getters for the Nashville Predators during the regular season. Now that the Stanley Cup Playoffs have taken center stage, Smith is pacing the entire League.

Through three contests, the 25-year-old forward is tied for the NHL lead in postseason points with five, including two goals, all of which have come in his last two games.

Smith has skated on the Preds top line alongside Mike Ribeiro and Filip Forsberg through their first three outings of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series with the Chicago Blackhawks, accounting for half of the trio’s 10 points in the playoffs thus far. Not bad for the Wisconsin native who, entering into the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, had just two games of postseason experience to his name.

“He’s been playing great,” Forsberg said of Smith. “He made two really nice plays [in Game Three for assists], and he had two goals and an apple before that, so he’s been really good for us and he has been all year.”

When asked about his success, Smith was quick to credit not only his linemates in Forsberg and Ribeiro, but also those on the backend who can help keep offensive zone possessions alive.

“I think our line has been playing great,” Smith said. “We’re in the right areas, and I feel like our pressure has been great, but our defensemen have been keeping pucks in and making good passes up the ice too. We’re just playing a simple game and executing.”

One of those defensemen is Mattias Ekholm, who leads, not only the Preds, but the entire League in postseason plus/minus with a plus-6 rating through three games.

“When he gets his game going with his speed and his attitude, I think he’s an awesome player,” Ekholm said of Smith. “He usually shoots more now in the postseason, and it’s been working really well for him.”

Of course the Predators currently find themselves down 2-1 in their series to the Blackhawks, but Game Four on Tuesday affords another opportunity for the Preds to even the series, just as they did with a 6-2 victory in Game Two back in Nashville.

For Smith, simplicity will be vital against a Chicago team that caught the Preds off guard with their quickness on more than one occasion in Game Three.

“We just need to use our speed to get up the ice and get away from them,” Smith said. “Quick, simple passes are going to be key. The simpler you are, the harder you play and the easier the game gets…We’ve just got be hungry and try to execute as much as possible, especially from the get-go.”

And the belief in the Nashville locker room says the club isn’t far off from doing just that. If the Preds execute that plan on Tuesday, the series could easily turn into a best-of-three headed back to Music City.

“I like our mentality,” Smith said. “I like what we’re doing and we’re going to be ready for tomorrow.”

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