NASHVILLE – Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. Down 0-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The must-win of must-wins.
This is the moment when the Nashville Predators’ top line would be usually counted on to put goals on the board, do something spectacular, be the heart and soul of this team’s offense like it had been for the better part of the previous three rounds, when Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen combined for 30 points in 12 games.
Unfortunately, that line doesn’t exist anymore. Johansen was lost after Game 4 of the Western Conference Final, undergoing emergency surgery for acute compartment syndrome of the left thigh.
Do they miss him?
“Of course,” said Arvidsson, after a pronounced sigh. “He’s a great player. We had great chemistry together. But we’ve just gotta face it: He’s not in the lineup anymore. We gotta battle through it.”
Forsberg and Arvidsson were split up after Johansen’s injury, with coach Peter Laviolette putting Forsberg with Colton Sissons and Pontus Aberg, while Arvidsson has settled on a line with Mike Fisher and James Neal.
Initially, the impact wasn’t felt for Forsberg, who was in the midst of a seven-game point streak that included a goal and two assists in Games 5 and 6.
“It’s different. We played for 45, 50 games in the regular season, and then all playoffs,” said Forsberg of the Predators’ top line. “But I played with Sissor a lot in the minor leagues, and Pontus when we were growing up.
“I think it was pretty quick. I mean, [the injury] happened overnight and the next day we played,” said Forsberg. “You just do what you have to do. [Sissons] stepped up right away, and obviously he had a hat trick in Game 6.”
But the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final have seen Forsberg go scoreless and Arvidsson notch one assist, his only point since Johansen went down. He’s a minus-5 in that span. His production has fallen off a cliff.
“We’re creating a lot of chances, but we’ve not been able to score as much maybe,” said Arvidsson.
His coach agreed.
“I think Arvie is generating chances. If you look at the end of the night, when the goals aren’t there, right away you go to it. You have to look at whether or not we’re generating chances. We are. He’s still part of that equation that’s a guy generating chances,” said coach Peter Laviolette. “I think he’s done an excellent job in this playoff. He works. He gives everything he has every shift. He generates offense.”
But reality has set in for Arvidsson, Forsberg and their team: With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin across the ice – and with their goaltending, which had carried them, faltering – the loss of Johansen looms over this series.
“You can’t replace Jo. He’s too good of a player. But a lot of guys have stepped up,” said Forsberg.
Perhaps the most appreciative of the effort players like Aberg, Sissons, Freddy Gaudreau and Austin Watson after Johansen was lost?
“As a teammate, it gives me chills right now,” he said last week, speaking for the first time since his injury. “I mean, just so proud. I believe and they believe in themselves. Then for them to go out there and get the results, it just shows the resilience, the work that those kids put in.”
The kids are alright. But one can’t help but wonder what this series looks like if the Predators still had the most dominant line in the playoffs at full capacity.
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