Anaheim/Nashville - Game Six: What To Watch For
It's do or die for the Predators tonight. Nothing else. Can Nashville force a game seven or will it be time to clean out lockers?
Return of Craig Smith?
Smith has been on the ice for practice both Sunday and for today's morning skate, but will he re-enter the line-up for tonight's crucial game six?
Gut feeling? I'm going with yes.
As long as Smith's lower-body injury isn't crippling, I'd fully expect him to be in the line-up tonight. The Predators have sorely missed his presence over the last three games. Smith returning, even at less than 100 percent, would still be a boost to Nashville's top-six.
You would have to imagine it would also be a benefit to Mike Ribeiro, as well. His abysmal play has only grown worse since Smith's departure early in game three.
Peter Laviolette has been mum so far on if he indeed will return tonight, which isn't outside of the ordinary during the playoffs. Keep your eyes peeled during pre-game warm-ups. If Smith is out there, chances are he's in.
Drive to the net and finish
Game five was a stellar example of what can happen when you drive the play close to Frederik Andersen and have back-up waiting for rebound chances. Just ask Miikka Salomaki, who was to Frederik Andersen's right and put home a juicy rebound to give Nashville a second goal for the first time since game two.
Andersen has been fantastic for Anaheim since starting in place of John Gibson for game three, however he hasn't been tested outside of stretches during game five. When he has seen traffic, it's come from the perimeter more so than traffic generated in the slot or crease.
Realistically, Nashville's only chance at tying this series up will rely on whether or not it can continually drive the puck in and around Andersen.
It sounds simple. Anaheim has made it difficult over the last three games, but the Predators have done it before.
Now they just have to be more consistent.
Closing up or moving on?
Nashville has never won a game six facing elimination. Never.
Will that change tonight? Is it even possible after seeing the Predators seemingly fall apart after going up 2-0?
Sure. Anaheim's been in this situation before -- dropping both game six and seven to lose the series after winning three straight right before that. It's not outside the realm of possibility.
It's honestly about who wants this game more. Who's going to play more desperate tonight: a confused Predators team facing elimination or a confident Ducks team ready to move on and play San Jose?
Interestingly enough, one of these two teams will accomplish a franchise-first tonight -- Nashville forcing a game seven or Anaheim winning a series after trailing 0-2.
Earlier this weekend, I tweeted this:
Here’s my prediction: #Preds drop today’s game five, but force game seven on Monday. From there? Who knows.— Kristopher Martel (@kmartel_sports) April 23, 2016
I still think that happens tonight.
This has been a very entertaining series, one I'm sure both teams are ready to put to an end and move to the next one. Someone has to go home, though, and that could happen as early as tonight.
Time to see who's more desperate.