Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm: 'We have another level'

Paul Skrbina
Nashville Tennessean

Working hard, in and of itself, will hardly work for the Nashville Predators.

Not against the Central Division champion Carolina Hurricanes, against whom the Predators have their work cut out for them in their first-round series.

But they knew that going in. They knew that, after working so hard for so long just to make the playoffs, hard work and grit alone wasn't going to be enough.

The Predators will have to work smarter and harder if they are to have a chance against the Hurricanes, who had the third-best record in the league. 

"There's a lot of performances within our lineup that need to be better from (Monday) night," coach John Hynes said Tuesday, a day after his team's 5-2 loss in Game 1. "We've thought a lot about lineup changes and who's in and who's out, but there are lots of players that are in the lineup that don't really ever come out and they need to be better."

And that's nothing new. Shuffling the lineup — say, adding Eeli Tolvanen to the mix to help boost a sagging power play or splitting up Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis on defense — probably will matter little if the big players don't play big.

Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene both make $8 million a year. Neither has produced consistently during the past two seasons. 

That's one part of the formula the Predators will need to follow.

After playing two months of "playoff" hockey just to get to the playoffs, though, they will need to turn the dial up yet again if they are to survive this series, let alone another two months.

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"We have another level than we showed (Monday)," defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. "We know we need to be better. You're always saying there's more to it; there's another level we can get to and we're preparing to show that."

That can be done, Ekholm said, by paying attention to details — all of them. Being first to pucks, reading plays, things like that.

"You see the small details of every little bounce, every little battle," he said. "If you relax for just that split second, it can end up in the back of your net. You can't just take a second off or leave your guy for a second. You always have to be on your game. Every moment is huge. ... Respect those little moments; they can make a huge difference in the end."

An end the team and its general manager, David Poile, hope not to reach too soon.

Poile, his team in the midst of a rebirth, decided against selling at the trade deadline, following his heart and his gut rather than his head.

The gamble paid off with a playoff berth. Now the stakes are raised.

All of which means the Predators must play their hand to perfection or another first-round knockout will be imminent.

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