The home-ice advantage that the Nashville Predators worked so hard for in the regular season is now lost. They need a split in Winnipeg to get it back.
A must-win scenario in Game 2 has kept the Nashville Predators alive in this brutal second-round series with the Winnipeg Jets. It may have taken double overtime, but the Predators remain in good shape to keep this series interesting.
The Nashville Predators are tied in a series with a team that many think is second-best in the NHL. That’s impressive considering the Predators still haven’t played their best game. They’re having flashes of greatness that got them the Presidents’ Trophy, but are still too streaky. When you play inconsistently against a team of Winnipeg’s magnitude, you find yourself in a lot of trouble. The Jets will continue to make the Predators pay a high price for taking periods off.
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In the first round, the Predators could get away with taking a period off because their talent and depth is vastly superior to Colorado’s. That’s no longer the case against Winnipeg. I didn’t think there was a reason to panic after losing the first game, and I definitely see no reason for panic with the series tied at one game apiece. However, the Predators are in desperation mode heading north of the border.
What needs to change in Winnipeg
The turnovers are a little alarming to me. They’re allowing the Jets to get easy scoring chances and not have to work hard to get them. The Jets will keep taking advantage of those easy opportunities and scoring four-plus goals per game. Yes, the Predators are fully capable of winning high-scoring affairs, but they don’t want to have to win that way every game.
Pekka Rinne hasn’t looked comfortable in the first two games of the series. He’s been under a lot of pressure and hasn’t looked comfortable in the saves he does make. However, Rinne is a true professional who is no stranger to adversity. He’s due for a shutdown performance, and that’s all the Predators need to steal a game in Winnipeg and get back home-ice advantage. Here are the comments he made following Game 2 win to tie the series:
Some people are calling for Juuse Saros to start over Rinne. That makes absolutely no sense to me. You ride the goaltender who got you this far and trust that he will settle down. If Rinne plays like the Vezina Trophy finalist that he is, then it will transform this series into an advantage for the Predators. They’re managing to survive despite not having rock-solid goaltending. I think that changes as the series shifts to Winnipeg. This series is due for a low-scoring and physical 2-1 final score.
Another big factor is the play of the JoFA line. It finally took off and propelled the Predators to a win in Game 2. Filip Forsberg had three assists, Ryan Johansen had two goals and Viktor Arvidsson chipped in as well. They can’t be no-shows in these next two games.
Prediction for both games in Winnipeg
It’s going to be tough, but the Predators have to get home-ice advantage back. If they fall behind three games to one, this series if over. Not because the Predators aren’t good enough to come back, but due to how good the Jets are. They’re not going to choke away a three to one series lead.
The pressure has to shift back onto the Jets. In the first two games, the Jets played like the much more comfortable team. They played more free and loose, much like Colorado did in the first round. It’s the Predators’ turn to play that way and put the pressure on Winnipeg. They obviously have to steal a game in Winnipeg, and you would like to see it in Game 3 more than Game 4.
Think about the monumental shift in momentum if the Predators win the next game, stealing back home-ice advantage. Suddenly we won’t be talking about all of the pressure being on the Predators. The way this team has responded to adversity since last year’s playoffs, I think they come out with new sense of urgency in this next game. I expect much more aggressive forechecking and more discipline when it comes to turnovers in their own zone.
This series has seven games written all over it. We knew that going into it. For that to happen, the Predators have to win one in Winnipeg. They do it in Game 3 behind one of Rinne’s top playoff performances. He’s going to settle down and get back to Vezina form. I have too much faith in him to think he’s going to crumble and force Saros to become the starter the rest of the way. I’m seeing a score of 2-1 in favor of the Predators behind a strong defensive effort in front of Rinne.
As for Game 4, the Jets will likely respond and tie the series back. These two teams are so evenly-matched and should be playing in the conference finals. Here’s what Dan Wolken of USA Today has to say about this series:
If we don’t want this series to end prematurely, all of the pressure is on the Predators to snag a road win in what’s going to be an extremely tough road environment. They really need to accomplish that in Game 3 to put the pressure on Winnipeg.