An emotional and draining early morning Game 4 victory left little in the gas tank when the Nashville Predators flew back to California for a vital Game 5 Saturday night. The contest went even worse than expected. San Jose set the pace from the outset and never looked back as Nashville’s taxing travel schedule looked to be catching up to them.
Three hour plane rides back and forth coupled without more than one day of rest since Game 1 in Anaheim took its toll. The three overtime classic on Thursday night drained any juice the team had stored. The Sharks were the fresher team throughout the overtime sessions and carried that energy into routing the Predators.
It was unfair fight from the beginning with San Jose easily showing who had their skating legs under them and who didn’t.
However, Nashville won’t go down quietly with the experience of overcoming a 3-2 series deficit in their recent past. The home team has yet to lose in the series as it heads back to Nashville, and Bridgestone Arena will undoubtedly be rocking once again. But the Predators are going to need more than a raucous crowd on Monday night.
The fatigue factor isn’t gone but will likely be reduced with the marathon game exhaustion being behind the team. The win or go home scenario, the crowd and the fact a deserving two day break is on the horizon if a Game 7 is played will give Nashville everything they need to leave it all out on ice. A lack of energy or focus won’t be the reason the Predators finish their season on Monday.
What might put the final knife in Nashville’s playoff run? A talented and determined Sharks team that smell blood in the water (Sorry, I had to). San Jose’s three 70 point scorers have continued that success into the postseason with a combined 33 points between Pavelski, Burns, and Thornton. Add Couture’s 13 points in 10 playoff games and that’s a deadly top four group.
The Predators top guns during the regular season haven’t produced at the rate of their opponent so far in the playoffs. Forsberg, Neal, Josi, and Weber have combined for 26 points in 10 postseason games. That’s not awful with guys like Wilson and Fisher stepping up big time, but it’s not good enough to advance at this stage.
With Ribeiro’s poor play and Smith still struggling through injury, the depth of the team up front isn’t there. Nashville’s bottom six has yet to produce a single point in the series. Counting on scoring from there in the next two elimination games is futile. The Predators’ best players will be the reason if they complete another comeback.
That starts with maximizing their opportunity. A rekindling of a top heavy trio with Neal, Johansen, and Forsberg worked at the end of the last series, so it makes a lot of sense here. While Neal has been alongside an on fire line with Fisher and Wilson, that speaks more to the chemistry of 33 and 12 than the presence of 18. Neal can fit on any line, and Johansen looks a little lost without his season long winger beside him. The chemistry they possess is unmatched among the forwards.
Deploying the top heavy first line pushes the probability of them scoring up substantially. The hope remains Fisher and Wilson stay hot in order to find the scoresheet. Finally, an aggressive blueline will need to pinch down in the offensive zone and light the lamp. With the play of Rinne, three goals can push the Predators to another Game 7. Nashville has yet to fold with their backs up against the wall. They get another to chance to prove it tonight.