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Nashville Predators

Facing Elimination, Predators Need Their Veterans To Show Up



Photo of Ryan McDonagh, left, by John Russell/Nashville Predators

“Take it one game at a time.”

“Just win the next game and go from there.”

Those phrases are likely being said in the Nashville Predators locker room as they prepare to face the Vancouver Canucks in Game 5 of their Stanley Cup Playoff series.

But regardless of how they say it or the words they use, the message remains the same: win your next game and save your season.

The Predators are staring at elimination, down 3-1 in their best-of-seven series against the Canucks and needed to snap a two-game losing streak to send the series back to Bridgestone Arena.

Following a last-minute collapse in Game 4 that saw the Predators squander a two-goal lead with less than three minutes remaining and surrender the game-winning goal one minute into overtime, Predators head coach Andrew Brunette made it clear how he expects his team to respond.

“I say Etch-A-Sketch [memory], we’ve done a great job, win or lose, we’ve moved straight ahead, and we’ve been us the next game,” Brunette said. “So, the next game is going to be, go out, win a game, play like you did the last two games and I’ll take our chances when you’re only giving up a few [goals] a game.”

In Game 1, the Predators fell apart in a matter of 12 seconds, giving up the tying and eventual game-winning goal all within that span. Despite being outplayed, they responded in Game 2, tying the series after a 4-1 win.

So, maybe there’s merit to what Brunette is saying. Maybe it isn’t just a carefully scripted answer, designed to calm down a heated fan base.

Regardless, the team will truly need to live with an “Etch-A-Sketch” memory, and that starts with the team’s veteran leadership talking the talk, and walking the walk.

The Predators are full of young players, some of whom are playing in their first NHL postseason. The younger group looks to veterans such as Ryan McDonagh, Roman Josi, Ryan O’Reilly and Luke Schenn for guidance.

Josi, the Predators captain, is leaning on his experience to help steer the team through its tumultuous time.

“Everybody’s a little bit hurt right now, but like I said before, sometimes you’ve got to focus on the process and things happen in hockey,” Josi said. “I’ve been a part of a lot of playoff series’, and things happen our way and sometimes things go the other way, and you’ve got to forget about it quick and make sure your game’s in order and things will work out.”

There are five Stanley Cup championships between McDonagh, Schenn, and O’Reilly. Those three have experienced seemingly everything the playoffs can throw at a player.

In 2012, when the Predators traded for Hal Gill, they rationalized the move as a great locker-room addition, citing his status as a veteran leader who had won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009. If there’s any merit to the “been-there-done-that” strategy, it must pay off now.

“You can’t go rogue, that’s for sure,” McDonagh said. “You can’t just go out and try and do it yourself. Anytime you do that, it just kind of dismantles itself.”

Even though they haven’t been rewarded with the results, Brunette wants the Predators to stick to their game plan. And the players concur that’s the correct strategy.

“We’ve got to lean on each other here as a staff, as a group, and to understand that for us to be successful, for us to have a chance to win a game, we need everybody to play their best game,” McDonagh added.

Brunette was quick to remind this isn’t the first time this team has battled adversity this season.

“You think back to even after that Dallas game, things could go one way or the other,” the Predators first-year head coach said. “I think it’s very similar to tomorrow, it could go one way or the other. Which way do we want it to go?”

The veteran voices and their message may dictate the Predators’ direction.

“Go there, win one, and see what happens,” Josi said after the Game 4 loss.

It may sound like a cliché, but cliches are cliches because they’re usually true.

The Predators believe their game has been good enough to win, but their composure has been lacking at times. Those are the moments where the veteran players have to lead by example. The rest of the team will follow suit.

The Predators will jump on a plane after Game 5 and head back to Nashville, win or lose. As Brunette said, it can go one of two ways: either they’re heading back to pack up their belongings for the summer or they’ll be playing in front of a lively Bridgestone Arena crowd — they get to decide.

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