Adam Vingan lays out all the missteps the Nashville Predators had in the 7-4 loss to Winnipeg, and what they need to do to capture a win in Game 4.
Autumn Allison, USA TODAY NETWORK- Tennessee
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — The most important play of this series for the Predators, and arguably the slickest, came from Kyle Turris.
His reach along the boards and deft slide of the puck to Craig Smith started the 2-on-1 that ended with a Kevin Fiala double-overtime goal to win Game 2. Without that, the Predators might’ve been trying to avoid a sweep in Thursday’s late Game 4. It’s the kind of crafty, heady play Turris has delivered on the regular since his early season acquisition in a three-way trade with Ottawa and Colorado.
Well, on the regular until recently. It needs to be said, and to Turris’ credit, he said it before Game 4: He has to be better. The Predators might leave this series for vacation, not another series, if their second-line center doesn’t rediscover the game that turned Nashville’s second line into a force all season.
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That line was different for Game 4 — with Fiala out and Scott Hartnell in for his second game of the postseason. Fiala was not injured, making it the latest Peter Laviolette move to shake things up. And it was a big move — removing a primary weapon in a series that puts a premium on weapons.
But Fiala has made some mistakes, including the first of three straight penalties in the third period of Game 3 that ended up costing the Predators the game. Hartnell is a step down in speed and skill, but he’s a step up in physicality, willingness to mix things up and net-front presence.
And the larger point remains: Turris, who had no goals and three assists in nine playoff games entering Thursday, needed to step up for the second line to resume being the force the Predators need it to be against the loaded Jets.
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“We’ve had ups and downs,” Turris said. “We’ve got to play better, you know? We have to play better consistently and have to be a lot better.”
In what way?
“In every way,” he said. “In skating, in physicality, in battles. I’ve got to be a lot better.”
Smith entered Thursday with two goals and an assist in nine games, and Fiala came in with three goals and an assist in nine games. That’s 10 collective points in nine games, which isn’t good enough. When the three were on the ice together in the first round against Colorado, the Predators did not score a 5-on-5 goal.
In this series, Turris has not looked much for his shot and has not been as physical as necessary against an opponent that is both heavy and speedy.
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“Production is kind of the end product of doing all the right things,” Turris said. “So you’ve just got to find a way to start doing those things and start skating more. Just being better.”
Turris is one of the mildest-mannered of Predators, one of the least likely to make any declarations with reporters around. The things he said Thursday, and the way he said those things, speak to his urgency.
Likewise, Laviolette does not criticize his own players in public. He will talk in general about things that need to improve, but he is careful to avoid individual chiding. He got about as close as he’ll get to acknowledging a player needing to respond Thursday when told of Turris’ comments about needing to be more physical.
“I think that line is capable of contributing it more,” Laviolette said. “Kyle probably said it best with you, physicality and speed. We always talk about speed and attitude inside the room. And I think those are important ingredients when it comes to being successful on the ice.”
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Smith, for his part, believes the second line has progressed from the Colorado series and is doing the “right things” more often.
“If you look at it from that, you can only do that so much until the numbers start showing up,” he said. “We’re all right, we’re all right. We’ll make some corrections. Nobody wants to play bad. In this locker room we hold each other accountable. We know what’s acceptable and not acceptable. And it really is just the little things.”
And a different look for the biggest game of the season to date.
Reach Joe Rexrode at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @joerexrode.