Predators Head Coach Barry Trotz is a big believer in his top players needing to play at their best on a game-to-game basis. Through three games of their first-round series with the Anaheim Ducks, Trotz has seen Mike Fisher and Shea Weber elevate their performance to a new level.
Nashville’s trade deadline acquisition has provided a big lift up front thus far in the playoffs. Fisher has five points in three games, including three clutch goals. He scored twice to seal a victory in Game 1 and netted the game-winner two games later. Fisher also dropped the gloves with Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf in Game 3.
“He’s been through the wars,” Trotz explained after Sunday’s win, “he’s a strong two-way centerman and can play in all situations. He’s proving why ownership allowed us to go get him. We don’t even make the playoffs without the Mike Fisher move.”
Due to playing through an upper-body injury, Fisher’s stint in Nashville got off to a slow start. He chipped in just four points in the first month, but has seemingly felt better in his last 10 games by racking up seven goals and 13 points in that time.
“It was a real frustrating time not being able to contribute like I can,” Fisher said last week of playing through his injury.
“He’s a great leader,” Weber said of Fisher. “His playoff leadership is very apparent. He’s obviously been to the Stanley Cup Finals and knows what it takes to get there. Hopefully he keeps playing the way he is.”
The Predators hope their captain keeps up his great play, as well.
Weber, who has averaged north of 25 minutes per game in the playoffs, has become to most dominant player on the ice in this series. He set the tone early in the series with a big hit and a power play goal in the opening minute of Game 1. On Sunday, he was a plus-3 despite not finding the score-sheet. The 6’4” defenseman even tallied two points in Game 2.
The team seems to be following his lead as captain.
“Every passing day, he becomes more comfortable with the (captaincy),” said Trotz. “He leads us on and off the ice in a lot of ways. He does all the things you want a captain to do.”
As a team, there seems to be better leadership and character than years past. They showed a lot of that down the stretch by finishing the year 11-3-1 and taking their playoff wins in more of a business-like manner. On Sunday, when the Preds blew a decisive 2-0 lead late in the second period, they showed resiliency by taking over again in the third.
“You play so well for so long, then something like that happens, it can really test your mettle and character,” Trotz said following the win. “I thought we responded really well.”
Now the Predators will try on Wednesday to do something they’ve never done before – take a two-game lead within a series.
“We just have to come out with urgency,” Ryan Suter said of the upcoming Game 4. “We know (Anaheim) is going to bring their best effort and is going to be flying. We have to match their intensity and come out ready. Every game is so important. You can’t afford to take a shift off.”
The Preds faced a similar scenario last year at this time, holding a 2-1 series lead on Chicago, but were shut out in Game 4. Wednesday’s game could tell a lot about whether they are ready to take that next step to the second round. With a win, they can push the Ducks to the brink; a loss obviously means they will have lost home-ice advantage.
“Last year… it is what it is. We blew it,” said Weber. “Hopefully we can learn from that.”
Though Trotz preaches a 60-minute, 20-man effort, you can expect the Preds to follow their leaders in Wednesday’s all-important Game 4 – especially postseason standouts Fisher and Weber.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.