NASHVILLE, Tenn. - It's the biggest game of the year in the NHL. A game seven between the Predators and Jets, the two best teams in the league during the regular season. The winner moves on, halfway to their goal of the Stanley Cup. The loser begins a long summer of regret.
How would you sleep on the eve of game seven?
"Yeah, I'm going to sleep great," Predators center Ryan Johansen said Wednesday, perhaps a sign of the battles his team has been through the last couple of seasons.
In the last 25 months the Preds have played in eight playoff series. This will mark the seventh time they've faced elimination. They've won four of those games, including a 4-0 shutout win in Winnipeg Monday night in game six.
It's that type of complete effort that elimination games demand, and Nashville knows it will need to have again when the puck drops at Bridgestone Arena just after 7 p.m.
"It's got to be the same mindset as game six," Predators defenseman Yannick Weber said. "This is the exact same thing, you lose you're out. We really answered the bell in game six. We knew what was at stake and we put together a solid 60 minutes."
That lock down defensive effort happened on the road, so Nashville should carry even more confidence with it into a game at home. But anything can happen in a game seven and, as we've seen in this series, home ice advantage has been virtually non-existent.
Despite perhaps playing in the two loudest and most intimidating arenas in the NHL, the Preds and Jets have combined to go just 2-4 at home in this series. That's a continuation of a league wide trend in which road teams are 35-31 this postseason.
For that reason, the Predators know they'll have to make sure they lock in and stay locked in tonight.
"I think it's a different mindset. As a Predator and playing at Bridgestone, you come to the arena and the atmosphere and the energy is just unbelievable," Johansen said. "It's hard to keep your emotions in check because you've got some famous singer doing the anthem and all this hype and you want to go out there and score a goal and play offense. But you've got to make sure you're doing all the right things away from the puck and on the defensive side as well."
That's the challenge for the Predators against a Jets team that's outscored them 14-8 in the three games in Smashville so far in this series, and has the quick strike offensive ability to make you pay for any mistake.
It will take a complete team effort that may involve some more lineup tweaks. Center Mike Fisher left game three with an injury and has not been on the ice with the team since. Defenseman Matt Irwin left practice early Wednesday and did not participate in the team's optional morning skate on Thursday.
Expect Calle Jarnkrok to center the fourth line and Ryan Hartman to come back into the lineup if Fisher is unable to play. Alexei Emelin would likely get the nod in Irwin's place on the blue line.
At this point of the season, it doesn't matter who's out there. This is one game to determine whether the season continues or not. It's time to let it all hang out.
"We've been working all year for this," said Scott Hartnell, who's provided a lift for the Preds when inserted into the lineup for wins in games four and six. "You have to relish this moment and make sure we're playing our best hockey. Safe is death in this room and we've got to go out there and just play as hard as we can."
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