The Nashville Predators ran roughshod over some elite teams in these playoffs.
They virtually erased the lore of the Mighty Chicago Blackhawks in a four-game sweep, rendering them into some kind of ghost realm they may struggle to recover from after cap hell, and expansion drafts pick the carcass clean this offseason. They also handcuffed a talented St. Louis Blues team as they managed to land Vladimir Tarasenko in some alternate universe where he was merely a good hockey player, and Jake Allen‘s forcefield went on the fritz.
Neither team looked particularly dangerous, yet both were expected to go farther than the Preds.
Predators, or Prey?
While the Preds have been outstanding throughout the playoffs, there is a clear standout among their forward corps who has been the engine driving much of the team’s success.
— Grady Sas (@GradySas) May 19, 2017
Tonight, the Predators will kick off their post-Johansen Playoffs after their top center was forced out having emergency surgery on a thigh injury immediately after Thursday’s Game 4 loss in overtime. Though the series is now tied, the ice may be permanently tilted in the uphill position for the Predators from here on out.
The team has gotten stellar goaltending from Pekka Rinne throughout the playoffs, and that has been a major plus for a team that has already been firing on all cylinders. But the loss of Johansen very well could render the Preds rudderless in a battle with a team that is all too familiar with the scent of blood in the water.
They should know, generally speaking, the Ducks spilled the blood in the first place.
Fishing for Replacements
Even if the Preds could survive the loss of their top center, which is not their first this postseason (Kevin Fiala broke his leg in the second round), they are facing another loss. Mike Fisher, their captain and second line center is also questionable for Game 5 with what appeared to be a possible head or eye injury. Even if he could play, there is a good possibility that such an injury will have an impact on how effective he can be, especially if faced with the Ducks public enemy number one, Ryan Kesler.
Fisher was collateral damage as the Ducks Josh Manson went for a puck and landed a knee in Fisher’s face, he left the game with a cut above the eye and was visibly shaken.
Now, this loss alone would be a tough one to take on the chin as Fisher is the team’s vocal leader and a pivotal part of their penalty kill. He is also one of their key trigger men, and against the Ducks, he will certainly be missed on the dot if he is unavailable.
Without Fisher, and Johansen this team is the Titanic in an iceberg landmine with no lifeboats, no oars, and ominous violin music. And the Ducks are their worst childhood nightmare come to life.
Don’t get me wrong, Calle Jarnkrok and Colton Sissons have legitimately had breakout moments in this postseason, but they’ve averaged 15:27 minutes of ice time between them and combined for three goals and five assists.
That won’t be enough to make up for Johansen’s 13 points (3 G, 10 A) or Fisher’s 53.5 percent success rate at the dots in these playoffs. Let alone the leadership that each player brings to the table.
The Preds depth has been one of their strengths all season and throughout this postseason run, and Johansen was well on his way to owning his counterpart Kesler as he clearly had the upper hand in that matchup through much of the first four games.
In fact, Johansen’s ability to battle without engaging in the extracurriculars that Kesler thrives on clearly frustrated the Ducks slasher-in-chief.
The Preds depth is about to be tested, and it seems unlikely that any centerman tasked with simply tolerating the Ducks Selke Trophy winning pivot will have their hands full, let alone stopping one of the best defensive forwards in the league.
And make no mistake, Kesler will poke relentlessly looking for even the slightest cracks in the most disciplined players.
Updated with Ryan Johansen's injury, Preds Cup chances fall by about five percent pic.twitter.com/m1IJ7eGQx0
— dom 🛩 (@domluszczyszyn) May 19, 2017
Kesler has gotten under the skin of far more seasoned and highly disciplined veterans like Jonathan Toews, and Sidney Crosby. So, an untested pup will be about as challenging as a swarm bees in a smoke stack. He’ll be sitting on the blue line eating all the honey before the clock ticks to 19 minutes remaining in the first period without even breaking a sweat.
What’s worse is that in Game 5 and Game 7 (if it goes that far), the Ducks will have the last change and will do their best to victimize whoever they feel Kesler has the greatest advantage over. Peter Laviolette will certainly have his work cut out for him.
The Preds won’t go down without a fight, but Championships are won with strong defense, and center depth.
There is no question that they have a glut of talent on the back end with Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, and P.K. Subban, but without their top two pivots even if they managed to miraculously survive this round, they likely won’t survive against whoever rolls out of the Eastern Conference Final no matter how hot Rinne remains.
Losing now would be a heartbreaker at this late stage of the postseason, but it is more than likely a brutal reality they will have to face. The team that stays the healthiest (or gets the luckiest healthwise anyway as no team survives this battle ‘healthy’) generally gets the Cup.
There is no shame in losing for the Preds though. They have absolutely dominated these playoffs and proven that they are a force to be reckoned with for years to come. They will come out of this battle-tested and no longer the kids on the outskirts of the playground ruled by the Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks, or St. Louis Blues. Let’s be real, they came out of the first two rounds with nearly everyone ‘s milk money, and their bikes.
They were not the favorites this season, but anyone would be hard pressed not to have them at the top of that discussion come next season after they literally owned two of their biggest rivals and appeared well on their way towards doing the same to the Ducks before injuries derailed their train.
This team has come too far to just roll over, but without Johansen and Fisher, even a miracle and saran wrap around the goal won’t get this team the league’s most coveted prize.