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Shorthanded Preds Must Keep Team Approach In Game 5

Posted: 3:06 PM, May 20, 2017
Updated: 2017-05-20 20:07:18Z

Heading into the most important game of the longest playoff run in franchise history Saturday night in Anaheim, the Predators team first identity will be put to the test.

In a city of music stars, the likes of Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, Little Big Town and Lady Antebellum have all sung the national anthem ahead of playoff games, the Preds value the mundane things like system and process above the sizzle of stardom.

Those are the things they will have to rely on when they hit the ice tonight for game five of the Western Conference Final against the Ducks.

The Predators will be without top line center Ryan Johansen for the first time since he was acquired by the team nearly a year and a half ago, and will now have to play without him for however long this playoff run lasts after the thigh injury he suffered in game four required emergency surgery Thursday night.

Complicating matters is the fact that second line center Mike Fisher is questionable for game five after leaving game four with an undisclosed injury. If the captain is unable to make a go of it, the Preds will be down to just three true centers, Calle Jarnkrok, Colton Sissons and Vernon Fiddler, on the active roster.

That seems like a problem against a Ducks team that's as physical as anyone in the center of the ice and the league's most dominant team in the faceoff circle, having bested the Preds in that battle in three of the first four games of this series.

Johansen is the worst possible injury the Predators could have faced. The 24-year-old center tied the franchise postseason scoring record with 13 points, including four points against the Ducks. He's also the team's best man in the faceoff circle.

But while Johansen is a budding star, this has been far from a one man show.

Through 14 playoff games, 15 different Predators have contributed goals and nine different guys have scored game-winners. Remarkable balance that has helped the Preds' outplay Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and the Blackhawks and Vladimir Tarasenko and the Blues.

Sure, P.K. Subban may be the biggest celebrity in hockey thanks to his enormous personality and pizzazz off the ice, but on the ice he's just one piece of the best defensive corps in the league featuring top D-men Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm.

Guys like Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson may well be on their way to stardom, but at 22 and 24 respectively, haven't done it for long enough yet.

Even in Nashville, it's hard to get a consensus of who the team's biggest star is. Before game four, I asked about 10 fans for their favorite players.

Subban, Fisher, Forsberg, Arvidsson, Johansen, Josi, Ellis, Pekka Rinne, even injured forward Craig Smith were the responses. Not one person repeated a previous answer.

This team has been built to be balanced and to be able to keep coming at you with four lines and aggressive defense pairings. Now that system is going to be put to the test.

Peter Laviolette will have to piece together new lines. Who will join Forsberg and Arvidsson on the top line? Where can he find other offensive production?

But the Predators won't change their approach. They will keep coming, line after line, and hope that their team balance can make up for the loss of Johansen, and maybe Fisher.

It has to be a collective effort. No one guy will be able to make up for those losses by himself.

It's been a team approach all season for the Predators and it can't change now.