The Nashville Predators have been dealt a major blow in their quest to bring a Stanley Cup to Music City.
Elliotte Friedman first reported that top line center Ryan Johansen is done for the playoffs with an injury. The team has since confirmed the news stating “During [Thursday] night’s game, Ryan Johansen sustained a left thigh injury that required emergency surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The surgery was successful and the estimated recovery time is two to three months.”
Johansen finished the regular season tied for the team lead in scoring with 61 points and was their leading scorer in the playoffs with 13. He played in all 14 post-season games before the injury, including Game 4 of the Western Conference Final where he logged 31 shifts, 27:28 of ice time, was 14-12 in the faceoff dot, registered a shot on goal and a plus-1 rating.
The news was unexpected as Johansen seemed to finish the game without incident. It was captain Mike Fisher who missed the final part of the third period and the entire overtime frame.
The loss of Johansen is monstrous for a Predators team whose sights are set on the Cup. His chemistry with his wingers Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson is uncanny, almost as if they’re thinking for each other at times.
The injury probably hurts Johansen personally as much as it does the team. After being drafted by the Blue Jackets fourth overall in 2010, Johansen spent four and a half tough years in the Columbus organization, only making the playoffs once due to the tumultuous way the organization was run at the time. Once traded to Nashville (for defenseman Seth Jones) in January 2016, he blossomed. The Vancouver, British Columbia native has tallied 95 points in 124 regular season games for the Preds and is expected to sign a lucrative deal this summer as a restricted free agent. What’s more, Johansen has never truly had a chance to hoist Lord Stanley. This was his first chance as a contender and he was every bit as important to the run as one would expect a top line center to be.
While we have to wait until Saturday night to find out what the coaching staff thinks “Plan A” is, Calle Jarnkrok might be Nashville’s best option in that top pivot spot. Jarnkrok is no stranger to the center position, knows Forsberg and Arvidsson extremely well and even played top line minutes last season while Laviolette was trying to figure out the best combinations of forwards for the stretch run.
That said, Colin Wilson is a possibility as is Austin Watson. Wilson, who hasn’t stepped up in the playoffs yet like he has the previous two years, may benefit from skating with creative types like Forsberg and Arvidsson. Especially with his fearless “get to the front of the net” attitude. Watson, on the other hand, is a big body, physical forward who’s shown he has offensive upside at every level of his career except the NHL. He could match up well against a similar-bodied Ryan Getzlaf of the Ducks while still going into the dirty areas in order to create space for his top tier linemates. In a minor sub-plot to all this, Watson moving up would make room in the lineup for Miikka Salomaki who has been used sparingly in the playoffs (four games, plus-2 rating) and has been a force when called upon and could provide the ever-so-important grit with an offensive touch on the fourth line.
Neither option is ideal but neither option is Johansen. The Predators will have to work with what they have.
Admittedly, the hill is tougher to climb in order to win the Cup now but don’t write them off just yet. You’ll recall the Preds lost Shea Weber early in their first round series with the Chicago Blackhawks back in 2015 due to a dislocated knee cap. All they did without their captain is outplay the heavily favored Hawks for much of the series, lost a game in triple overtime and eventually fell in six games. If they can be the better team against Chicago (in a year they won the Cup, by the way), certainly it stands to reason that they can win two more games against Anaheim to get to the Final. Then, of course, anything can happen. They key is getting there.
Game 5 is in Southern California tomorrow night before the teams come back to Nashville for Game 6. The best-of-seven series is tied 2-2.