Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban brings the puck up ice in the second period. File photo by BIll Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Nashville Predators' magic carpet ride through the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs encountered major turbulence when they announced Friday that Ryan Johansen will miss the remainder of the playoffs with a left thigh injury.
The injury to Johansen, the team's leading scorer, was sustained in Nashville's 3-2 overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday which evened the Western Conference Final at two victories apiece. Johansen underwent surgery in Nashville on Friday and the Predators estimated his recovery time to be in the range of two to three months.
Johansen collected 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) through 14 games, registered a team-best 54.3 percent faceoff win percentage and his average ice time (20:45) was second only to linemate Filip Forsberg among Nashville forwards.
With captain Mike Fisher's status unknown for Game 5, the Predators could be down to their two top centers in an evenly played series.
The Predators rolled through the first two rounds with little adversity, so this injury news will be the first major test for them given their lack of productivity at center behind Johansen. Fisher has yet to score a point in the playoffs and third-line center Calle Jarnkrok has registered a goal and an assist in 13 games.
With the Ducks already holding a significant matchup advantage at center with captain Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Antoine Vermette and Nate Thompson manning the middle, coach Randy Carlyle will look to exploit it as Anaheim tries to take one step closer to a Stanley Cup Final berth. Their last appearance was 10 years ago when they defeated the Ottawa Senators in five games to capture the franchise's lone Stanley Cup.
The Ducks evened the series with a 3-2 overtime victory on Thursday on Corey Perry's third overtime goal of the playoffs, matching the NHL record for most OT tallies in a playoff year with Mel Hill in 1939 and Maurice Richard in 1951.
Carlyle was behind the bench for the 2007 Cup victory and feels that the performance by players at two positions will determine the series winner.
"If our goaltender can outplay their goaltender, then our chances go up dramatically," Carlyle said. "If our centermen can outplay their centermen, our chances go up dramatically."
Despite missing an opportunity to take a commanding lead in the series had they completed the rally from a two-goal third period deficit, Predators winger James Neal knows his team has plenty of fight left in them.
"It's 2-2. Nothing's going to be easy," Neal said. "That's why it's the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in sports. And we should be confident in our group. We have a chance to go in their rink, win a game, and come back with a chance to win in our home building. So put a smile on our face, enjoy it, get ready, and feel good about a tough game in their rink and what can come from that."
The Predators will need goaltender Pekka Rinne to revert to the form he displayed in the two series wins over Chicago and St. Louis if they are to secure their first Stanley Cup Final appearance. Rinne posted a .951 save percentage in the first two rounds but has plummeted to .911 against Anaheim. Given that Rinne's season percentage was .918, it is incumbent upon the Predators' defense to limit the number of shots the Finnish netminder faces.
Rinne claims to have put the Game 4 loss behind him and knows he will need to be at his best behind a short-handed team.
"Game 4 has to be behind us already, and we have to focus on the next one," Rinne said. "That was a missed opportunity, but we battled back, and obviously didn't have a good start. We did not a good first period but we battled back and showed a lot of character."