The intensity of the Western Conference Quarterfinals take a big step up tonight at Bridgestone Arena; the Predators and Blackhawks are now essentially locked in a best-of-five struggle, in which Nashville has the home-ice advantage. Some Chicago blogs are already talking about the Blackhawks' opportunity to close things out in Game Five on Saturday at the United Center, in front of their home fans.
Nothing like getting out ahead of a story, eh?
After the jump I've got some of the scoop from today's morning skate including the latest on Patric Hornqvist and Denis Grebeshkov, what Colin Wilson's dad told him leading into his first playoff run, and a report from Section 303 that the Preds have signed another Swedish goal-scoring winger for next season to go along with "Horn Dog"...
Still no Grebeshkov?
When asked (by John Glennon in the morning press conference) about a possible return to duty by Denis Grebeshkov, Barry Trotz cited the difficulty of jumping back into the lineup during these critical playoff games, and that Grebs would have to be 100% ready both physically and mentally. That pressure is only going to increase as this series goes on, however, so by that logic he wouldn't play until Game 1 of a possible next round, right?
If he's not physically 100% that would of course explain why he isn't playing, but mentally? At the very least he could play the 5-6 minutes that Cody Franson is getting these days, most of it on the power play. Grebeshkov provides a unique element to a Nashville power play that is 0-for-7 so far, and could make a major impact on this series.
Still no Hornqvist?
Patric Hornqvist was nowhere to be seen at the morning skate - as Glennon notes, he didn't skate before Game 1 and played, then skated before Game 2 and didn't play. That said, not skating is not a good sign. The official word is that he's a "Game Time Decision", so stay tuned.
Scoring By Committee
On multiple occasions, Trotz took the opportunity to state that the entire team needs to put forth a determined effort to create offense. One reporter gave him an opening to call for more production from Jason Arnott, and another wondered how the team would score without Hornqvist. In each case, Trotz emphasized that "we don't rely on one or two guys, we rely on the group." This "Band of Brothers" mentality has been a hallmark of Barry Trotz teams, but it's especially true this season in which the Preds have been a decent offensive squad (11th in 5-on-5 Goals For) despite the lack of a single superstar talent up front.
Play Tough, Play Smart
Penalties during the later stages of Game Two really turned the tide in Chicago's favor, and I asked Barry about the fine balance between bringing playoff-level intensity, and staying out of the box. "You've got to stay 'in the moment', and understand that it's not going to be easy. We have the best referees in the world in our league, and you have to rely on them to make the right calls. You have to keep your composure - that's about mental toughness. It's not showing up the other guy that 'I'm tougher than you', or 'I want to get the last punch in,' this is about who's mentally tougher, and who's able to dig deeper and find that core of what you're supposed to be about, in terms of character."
Joel Ward is talked about often as one of the guys who can help fill Hornqvist's role up front, and I asked him how the Chicago defense has limited his scoring opportunities at the front of the net: "They've been playing well, blocking a lot of shots and making it tough to get pucks through. My job is to attack the front as best as I can, try to screen [the goalie] and get at a few pucks. If pucks are getting through, I've got to make things happen, but right now they're doing a good job of boxing out and blocking shots."
Colin Wilson on his father (10-year NHL veteran Carey Wilson) giving him advice heading into his first playoff: "He actually didn't tell me too much. I was surprised, actually, thinking about it - he didn't really say too much, just that it would be more emotional and high-paced."
Preds sign Swedish dangler?
Section303.com brings word that the Preds have signed Swedish winger Linus Klasen to a one-year contract. A point-per-game man in the Swedish Elite League, Klasen is quite the YouTube sensation:
It will certainly be interesting to see how he performs against NHL-level talent in training camp this fall...