The Predators have seen an abundance of depth forwards step up and play some incredible hockey in this postseason. Guys like Frederick Gaudreau, Colton Sissons, and Pontus Aberg, all relatively unknown players, have navigated wayward paths to the NHL and jumped headfirst into the highest level of hockey, playing extremely well against guys like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
And then there’s guys like 37-year-old Mike Fisher.
Prior to the Stanley Cup Final, Fisher didn’t register a point in the playoffs, let alone a goal. He was largely absent in the first three rounds, even sitting out due to an injury late in the Western Conference Final.
So what does Fisher do in this Cup Final series? He becomes the foundation for the Predators, especially for this young group of forwards, guiding them to a 2-2 series tie and being arguably the most important center on and off the ice.
“He's the heartbeat of our team,” Peter Laviolette said after the Preds’ 4-1 Game 4 win. “People will say it's time to produce. He's been unbelievable. He's an unbelievable captain. He's been great in the locker room. He lives his life and lives his hockey life every day in a manner that you would want to follow.”
While he still doesn’t have a goal, all he’s done in the first four games of this Cup Final series is register four assists for a point-per-game pace. He’s been a huge part of this Cup Final series, whether it’s by generating offense, by shutting down the Penguins forwards, or by leading the team back from an 0-2 series deficit.
In Game 4 last night, and on his birthday no less, Fisher skated for just over 18 minutes, mostly against Sidney Crosby. He frustrated Crosby’s line, forcing them to take undesired shots and always looking to start the breakout the other way.
That breakout mentality—something the Preds have had all year long—led to an incredible play involving linemate Viktor Arvidsson. With the Penguins pressing, Fisher skated towards a puck cleared by James Neal and, despite not having full control of the puck, dished an amazing desperation pass to Arvidsson, who then raced in to score the Preds’ third goal of the night.
Here was Fisher on the play:
Well, I knew Arvi was going. When he goes, he's gone. I tried to handle it. I kind of lost it on my backhand. Then I just tried all I could do to just whack it ahead. I knew he was gone. He made an unbelievable play.
Laviolette mentioned that Fisher’s pass to free Arvidsson on the breakaway is “just typical” of what he brings to the lineup.
Fisher also had the best underlying shot attempt stats of any Nashville skater in Game 4. While generating a 69.5% shot attempt for differential in just over 14 minutes of 5v5 icetime, he helped hold the Penguins to only seven shot attempts while out there.
Pretty impressive considering the competition he was going against. The Penguins were a much better team offensively last night, often finding their way in behind the Predators’ defense and creating more scoring chances as the night wore on. But guys like Fisher helped keep most of them off the board.
Fisher has shown incredible leadership in this series so far. He’s sacrificed his own scoring ability to make sure that guys like Arvidsson have had chances to succeed. He’s been there to stick up for his team when needed, especially late in Game 3. And he’s done all of it while battling an injury.
When Laviolette spoke of how Mike Fisher leads this team night in and night out, he put it simply: “Heart and will.”
The production of the depth forwards on this Predators team is an incredible story, but so to is Mike Fisher’s ability to lead the team to within two wins of the Stanley Cup despite having a good 16 years of extra wear on his legs and despite battling an undisclosed injury.
Most of us knew that if the Predators were going to make some noise in these playoffs, guys like Mike Fisher would have to step up. Then when Ryan Johansen’s season ended, Fisher would really have to step up.
So far, so good.