The Predators are counter-punchers. They fought back from 3-2 down to make it to the second round. They fought back from being outplayed in the multiple overtimes of Game 4 against the Sharks to snatch a win. With their backs up against the wall again last night, they fought back from an early two-goal hole, and a third-period deficit, to snag the tying and winning goals to send this series to Game 7. Another one.
If the Preds are tired, they’ve got good reason. They didn’t clinch a postseason berth until April. They’ve played more playoff games than anyone else. The scheduling has never given them more than one day off between games. They’re a geographically eastern team in the Western Conference, and have matched up against two California teams, so they’ve traveled more than twice as many miles as any other club.
Part of Peter Laviolette’s solution was to completely reshuffle his lines, moving rookie Viktor Arvidsson up to the top line. He’s fast, he’s young, and maybe he’s got fresher legs than anyone else.
“We just had a feeling that Arvidsson was going to be a nonstop worker out there and use his speed to get in on the forecheck and make things happen,” Laviolette said. “It was great for him. He is so much fun to watch.”
Those jets were on display a couple of minutes into overtime, when Miikka Salomaki lofted a puck just inside the Sharks’ defensive zone. Arvidsson, with a head of steam, dashed past two Sharks and around a flat-footed Marc-Edouard Vlasic. It caught everyone off-guard, and Arvidsson was able to flip a floating backhand over the shoulder of Martin Jones for the winner.
It was Arvidsson’s first career playoff goal, and just his second point of this postseason. He’s a much better skater than he is a puckhandler, let alone a scorer, and he was definitely a curious choice to replace Craig Smith on the top line. But Laviolette rolled the dice, and sometimes a speedy guy will put himself in a position to put the puck on net and hope for the best, and sometimes the best happens.
Game 7 is back in San Jose on Thursday, and, somewhat weirdly, it’s a Game 7 where history shouldn’t terrify the Sharks. The home team has won every game in this series, and the Predators have never in their history won a playoff game in the Sharks’ building.
But the exhausted Preds have one thing going for them: their first two-day break of the postseason. “We just kept saying ‘let’s get through this game,’” Laviolette said, “‘and we’ve got two days.’”
On top of that, Arvidsson nipping this game in the bud before prolonged overtime meant a good night’s sleep.
“That was the second-most exciting part of him scoring, is that it was in the first three minutes,” Nashville left wing Colin Wilson said. “We get to get to bed at a regular time.