Predators look to close out series with Blackhawks

It's not quite the French Connection or even the Legion of Doom, but the Nashville Predators' JOFA line is off to a rocking start in this season's Stanley Cup playoffs.

In helping Nashville establish a 3-0 series lead on the Central Division champion Chicago Blackhawks, the trio of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson has accounted for four goals and seven assists, good for 11 of their 23 total points.

If Chicago can't figure out a way to neutralize the JOFA line in Game 4 of this Western Conference first round series Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, its Friday will be spent booking weekend tee times and going through exit interviews instead of preparing for Game 5.

"We're just being hard on pucks, getting pucks to the net and converging on the net," Arvidsson said after Monday night's 3-2 overtime victory in Game 3.

Every goal the line has scored in the series has been a manifestation of Arvidsson's analysis. In Game 1, Arvidsson found open space in front of goalie Corey Crawford and tipped Forsberg's slot shot home for the night's only goal.

In a 5-0 romp during Game 2, Johansen was quicker to a loose puck in the slot, beating Crawford with a wrister while tumbling over defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk. And in Game 3, Forsberg's two third-period markers were a product of pouncing on rebounds.

"In Game 2, I thought they were excellent, and tonight, I thought they were excellent," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said early Tuesday morning of his top line. "They pulled our team in the right direction."

What's more, they have spawned success from other lines. James Neal, Calle Jarnkrok and Kevin Fiala hinted at scoring all night in Game 3, and Fiala finally converted the game-winner from Neal at 16:44 of overtime.

Every line has scored for Nashville, which also has gotten sterling play from its backline. Ryan Ellis has been on the scoresheet the last two games, while Roman Josi attempted a whopping 13 shots in Game 3. And the duo of Mattias Ekholm and P.K. Subban has driven play while torturing Jonathan Toews' lines throughout the series.

Before Game 2, Chicago spoke of making adjustments to crowd Rinne, and failed to execute. Prior to Game 3, coach Joel Quenneville opted for line changes and stuck with Crawford in net. The former had little effect, but Crawford was brilliant in a 46-save effort and probably would have been the first star if the Blackhawks could have made their 2-0 third period lead stick.

Quenneville is trying different lines again for Game 4, as Toews had Marian Hossa and Nick Schmaltz working as wingers during practice Wednesday. What's more, veteran defenseman Johnny Oduya could be scratched in favor of Michal Kempny.

The message from Quenneville and the team's veteran core Wednesday was that all the pressure is on the Predators, since it's a possible closeout game. It was a 180-degree turn from Quenneville's body language in the wake of the difficult Game 3 defeat.

"We've got to find a way in a couple of days to regroup," he said early Tuesday morning. "It's about just trying to win one game and try to get back to Chicago."
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