Well, it’s technically Bonnie Tyler, but that’s not nearly as fun.
“I need a hero,” she sang as Fiona danced with her fraudulent Prince Charming. “I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night.”
That’s exactly what the Predators need to defeat the Jets in a winner-take-all game at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday night: a hero.
He’s gotta be strong, he’s gotta be fast, and of course, he’s gotta be larger than life.
Playoff games, in particular Game Sevens, often come down to who has the hero on their side, and Thursday night’s contest should be no different.
The good news for Nashville is that there is a laundry list of candidates for that role. It was Colton Sissons in Game Six of the 2017 Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks. It was Austin Watson in their 2018 first-round series against the Colorado Avalanche. It was Filip Forsberg in Game Six on Monday night against the Jets.
So, who’s next?
“In the playoffs, every game has its own little story,” said defenseman Yannick Weber after practice on Wednesday. “You look at last year’s playoffs, we had guys stepping up every series. In the Colorado series, Watson was our best player. Every game has its own little story and there’s guys who are going to make a difference. We have a lot of players who can decide a game, if it’s offensively or defensively. It will be the same tomorrow, I know there’s going to be the same mindset as we had in Game Six and if we do that we’ll have success.”
There’s a certain next-man-up mentality with these Predators, and it has shown with their ability rotate players like Scott Hartnell, Ryan Hartman and Miikka Salomaki in and out of the lineup. The hero could be the top guys, or it could be one of the new guys. That certainly happened in last year’s playoffs when Frederick Gaudreau and Pontus Aberg made the most of their chances in the lineup.
“We’ve got certain guys that can do some special things out there,” Hartman said. “You’ve got a guy like Fil who can take over a game at any point. Some guys go from not playing to playing, you’ve got to make sure you’re ready when your name is called and you’re ready to make a difference.”
The hallmark of this Predators team all season long has been their unprecedented depth. They finished in the top 10 in goals scored as a team but did not have a single player in the top 30 in goals individually. Their top scorer was Viktor Arvidsson, who had 29 goals.
Given that, one might think that they would need a big change in order to center their effort around one player. However, that’s not necessarily the case. Perhaps that spread-out scoring happened because certain players rose to the occasion in certain situations. There were standout individuals throughout the year, but there was just a rotation of them.
It could be anyone that comes to bat for the team on Thursday night.
“I think it’s been one of our strengths all year,” captain Roman Josi said. “Different guys stepping up at different times. We know we have the depth for any guy, whoever you put out there, to step up and have a huge game.”
Having a game-changing individual performance will be especially key against a very similar Winnipeg Jets team. The Predators had eight 40+ point-getters in the regular season, while the Jets had seven. In addition, all but four Predators have at least one point in the playoffs while all but three Jets have points.
Each game of this series has, at least in part, come down to individual performers on either side. In Game One, Mark Scheifele had a pair of goals (granted one of them was an empty-netter) in the Jets’ opening win, while Ryan Johansen netted two in Game Two as part of an overall stellar performance by the top line of Forsberg, Johansen and Arvidsson for Nashville. In Game Three it was Dustin Byfuglien for Winnipeg, and it was Pekka Rinne taking over Game Four with 32 saves. Kyle Connor lead Winnipeg in Game Five, and of course, Forsberg successfully siphoned fuel from the Jets in Game Six.
If the Predators get one of those brilliant individual performances from someone in Game Seven, they’ll give themselves the best chance at winning the game and potentially the Stanley Cup.
“The teams that usually go the farthest are the teams that have the deepest rosters, the deepest lineups, whether it be injuries or guys stepping up and the last couple of years, we had that depth,” Ryan Ellis said.
Depth is great, and has helped the Predators get to this point. It will also potentially mitigate the loss of Mike Fisher, who did not practice on Wednesday. However, depth means nothing if nobody comes to the plate and delivers when the lights shine the brightest.
“I think it doesn’t matter who’s out there for us, anyone can make a difference, no matter who we put out against their lines,” Forsberg said. “It doesn’t really matter to me, I think we can all play against their lines and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”