After the Nashville Predators’ Game Five loss to the St. Louis Blues, some argued that head coach Peter Laviolette should do just that, even calling for the team’s most productive line, featuring Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg, to be broken up. Instead, Laviolette made minimal lineup changes and kept the “JoFA” line intact.
It paid dividends, as the Predators’ top line netted the game-winning goal in the third period to send Nashville to its first-ever Western Conference Final.
As the cliché goes, that’s why Laviolette gets paid the big bucks.
“It shows the trust coach shows in us and our lines,” said Ryan Johansen, who scored the game-winning goal for the Predators. “I guess it’s a credit to us and knowing that he believes that we can stick with it and that we’re working hard and we’re doing everything we can. I know for our line, there’s room to improve, but moving forward here, we’ve got to build off some success we’ve had in the first two rounds.”
Johansen’s line has been the most productive on the team all season, but had been held to just one goal through the first five games of this second round series. Even though the Predators have utilized their depth throughout the playoffs, their offense still starts and ends with the Jofa line. They were needed, and they delivered.
Arvidsson had the second-highest Fenwick for percentage (ratio of unblocked shots for/against while on the ice) on the team in Game Six, and Johansen had the fourth-highest. Forsberg was not far behind, as he had the ninth-highest on the team. The Predators’ top line was able to finally turn those chances into goals and be incredibly productive.
That trust in the lineup from Laviolette is the product of accountability amongst the Predators players, according to P.K. Subban.
“The trust is there because we all buy in and I think that, even when we have an off game, we know why,” Subban said. “We don’t shy away from it. We look ourselves in the mirror and we talk about it. We say ‘hey guys, it wasn’t good enough. We’re not working hard enough. We’re not getting in on the forecheck.'”
“I think that’s such an important thing if you’re going to have a successful team is accountability. We hold each other accountable. We don’t need Lavy to come in and tell us what we need to do after periods. We know. We know what makes us be successful and what has given us success. It’s his job to come in and let us know, but as a group, we hold each other accountable. It’s great to be a part of that.”
Even in Game Five, the top line was generating offense, but could not find the back of the net. In that contest, Forsberg was the top Fenwick for player on the Predators, while Johansen was sixth in that category. According to Johansen, it was all about staying the course and finding that magic touch.
“Obviously, we want to score and contribute, but we were getting lots of chances,” he said. “With the shot attempts and saves he made, how many times we missed the net, we needed to find a way to finish it off. I think we did a good job of sticking with that as a line and just keep pounding away.”
Now, the Predators set their sights on Edmonton or Anaheim in their first-ever Western Conference Final appearance. The win on Saturday was a big step in the maturation process of this franchise, but by no means is it the goal the Predators have in mind.
“The expectation is the Stanley Cup. I think we took a big step today and obviously for this organization and this city, but that’s not our ultimate goal. Our ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup. We’ve worked really hard to put ourselves in a good position and there’s still a lot of hockey left to be played, but we should enjoy this today. It’s a hell of an accomplishment for this organization.”
Stats via Corsica.com