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Top Line Carries Preds to First Ever 3-0 Series Lead

Vive la JOFA

Chicago Blackhawks v Nashville Predators - Game Three Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Through three playoff games, it’s pretty clear: the Predators’ offense runs through it’s top line.

Of course, we already knew that. The Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and Viktor Arvidsson line accounted for 180 points in the regular season, which was 29% of the Predators offense. Every time the Preds needed a big shift or a timely goal, the JOFA line delivered, especially in the second half of the season.

That chemistry has continued into the postseason. They’ve not only been a joy to watch, they’ve been absolutely killing the Blackhawks up and down the ice.

First, they’ve been putting the puck in the net. They’ve been the most dangerous line in the series and it’s not even close. Through three playoff games, the JOFA line has 11 of the Preds’ 26 points. The next closest line is the Calle Jarnkrok line (with James Neal and Kevin Fiala) who have four points collectively. Johansen’s line was on the ice for two of the Preds’ three game winning goals, as well as they were instrumental in the Game 3 comeback, with Forsberg notching a pair of goals in the 3rd period.

When it comes to puck possession, they’ve been absolutely owning the puck in the Chicago end. In just over 45 minutes at 5v5, Johansen has a 63.3% shot attempt for percentage when skating with Forsberg and a 62.9% mark with Arvidsson. They generate a ton of scoring chances together and are not giving up many at the other end.

And then there’s this:

That was a fun moment. Toews had a rough night, running into not just Johansen, but Subban and Ekholm as well.

On that note, the other thing the top line has done well is completely shutting down the Hawks top players. After three games, Jonathan Toews has zero points at even strength, his only point coming on Patrick Kane’s power play goal. Kane has just the one point. Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov, and Marian Hossa are all pointless (ha). Richard Panik had a secondary assist on Dennis Rasmussen’s goal.

The JOFA line hasn’t been the only group stopping the top Hawks players—Pekka Rinne’s 93 saves on 95 shots certainly plays a role—but their constant pressure in the attacking zone and their always dangerous scoring mentality has slammed an emergency brake on the Hawks’ attacking mindset. They can hardly break out of their own zone when the JOFA line is out there.

And they’ve been out there a lot. Of all skaters in the postseason, Forsberg and Johansen have the 5th and 6th most 5v5 minutes, while Arvidsson comes in at 14th most. Laviolette is riding that top line as much as possible, even double-shifting Forsberg at one point in the 3rd period.

Everyone knows you need good depth in the playoffs if you want to make a deep run. The Preds will need to continue to get some secondary scoring, like they have already from guys like Kevin Fiala, Harry Zolnierczyk, and Colton Sissons. They will probably also need more scoring from the blue-line, as Ryan Ellis has the only goal by a defenseman in the series.

But right now? Keep riding your big horses. Keep letting your most dangerous line dictate the pace of the game, because it’s working like a charm.