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Nashville’s Toughest Test Yet Will Force Them to Adjust

No one can say the Predators avoided the hardest opponents to get here. Now, the defending Cup champions await.

NHL: Nashville Predators at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

While the clinching victory over the Ducks was euphoric when it was over, the game wasn’t a great showing from the Predators. Give them credit for capitalizing on their opportunities but mustering only 18 shots on goal while the opponent fires over 40 isn’t a recipe for success.

And it simply won’t work against the Penguins.

It’s hard to be too critical of Nashville considering the depletion in the forward group. They should be in better shape as Mike Fisher and Craig Smith were practicing this week. If they both can go, it’ll put the team in a much better position to dress a capable lineup.

The comparison between this Penguins team and the Chicago one the Predators swept isn’t perfect, but it’s a valid one. Pittsburgh doesn’t possess the normal fourth line bruisers like many NHL teams, and thus, just like the first playoff series, there doesn’t appear to be a significant role for the likes of Cody McLeod or Vernon Fiddler.

The Penguins just play solid hockey, and that’ll be a breath of fresh air coming off a Ducks series that included far too much post-whistle activities.

That means configuring a lineup to match that style of play.

It starts with Nashville hopefully being able to retain a productive first line of Filip Forsberg, Colton Sissons, and Pontus Aberg. While that’s a tall task against Sidney Crosby and co., it’s vitally important.

Next, I think a reunion of Colin Wilson, Mike Fisher, and James Neal is something that makes a lot of sense. They haven’t been able to rekindle their magic from last postseason when put together this season, but options are thin at this point.

And now here’s the trio that could make some noise. Viktor Arvidsson, Calle Jarnkrok, and Craig Smith possess the foot speed to even give the quick Penguins some headaches. Arviddson and Jarnkrok have largely been silenced recently due to the sheer size disadvantage presented by the large bodies of St. Louis and Anaheim.

They should receive much more room against Pittsburgh and be able to capitalize on that opportunity.

Given his play when called upon, Frederick Gaudreau should keep his place while being flanked by Austin Watson and perhaps a speedy Harry Zolnierczyk.

While it doesn’t include the big names, my most pivotal match-up is Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber against the bottom six lines of Pittsburgh. As we’ve discussed, the Penguins have incredible depth at forward, and it’ll be a challenging task for Nashville’s third pairing to hold off the likes of Nick Bonino, Carl Hagelin, Matt Cullen, and Conor Sheary.

The biggest key for Nashville as a whole is to stay out of the penalty box at all costs. When a team can roll out Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Crosby with a man advantage, it’s a disaster for the opponent.

It’s going to be difficult. There’s no way around it. Another string of stellar performances from Pekka Rinne will be needed. Players are going to have to step up in the biggest moment of their careers, but if they do we’ll have a nice little parade down Broadway.