Nashville Predators' Matt Duchene, Ryan Johansen come up big in Game 3 after losing power-play duties
Matt Duchene has drawn his fair share of ire since joining the Nashville Predators as an $8 million-a-year free agent before the 2019-20 season.
Ryan Johansen, who receives the same paycheck as Johansen and has drawn similar criticism for his lack of production the last two seasons, has too.
Both, considered "big-time" players within the organization, were stripped of their power-play duties Friday night in Game 3 of their team's first-round playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Both, who have "big-time" expectations attached to their paychecks, finally came up big in a "big-time" game for the Predators, much to the delight of head coach John Hynes, the man who makes the ultimate playing time decisions.
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Duchene scored the winning goal with 5 minutes, 6 seconds left in a 5-4 victory in what was the third-longest game in franchise history.
The goal breathed some life into what was considered a dead season two months ago, and what could have become a hopeless series had the Hurricanes scored in either overtime, considering only four teams in league history have overcome 0-3 deficits.
"That's the step-up we need," said forward Filip Forsberg, who scored a goal Friday in front of a crowd of more than 12,000 — the largest in the NHL playoffs this season — which included former Titans running back and new Tennessee State coach Eddie George and Grammy Award-winning artist Keith Urban, who sang the national anthem and had actress wife Nicole Kidman at his side.
"Take the good vibes and move forward," Duchene said.
Johansen's goal with 14:59 left in the third gave the Preds some good vibes and a short-lived lead — and him a shot of confidence.
Both players handled the news of their new roles professionally, Hynes said.
"Those guys had a good response tonight," Hynes said. "Part of being a team and winning is you have to accept the role you're in. They played with a little chip on their shoulder. They found a way on the scoreboard. That's what you need; that's what being a team is all about."
"I'm a power-play guy," said Duchene, who had six goals and seven assists in 34 regular-season games this year. "Have been my whole career. It's tough to stay in the game, but at the end of the day you cheer on your teammates and be a good teammate. I just tried to draw as many penalties as I could; I guess that was my mentality."
It paid off Friday night. But it also furthered the pressure for Sunday afternoon, when the Predators face the Hurricanes in Game 4 at Bridgestone with a chance to even the series at 2-2.
The Predators will no doubt need the forwards to perform going forward if they are to have a chance against the Central Division champs.
"I have no idea what the plan is going forward," Duchene said of his role. "That's a question for Coach (Hynes)."
The answer seems pretty simple, just like Hynes said the other day: Big-time players such as these two, will need to continue to play like it in big-time games.
Predators goalie Juuse Saros, who has been the biggest player in gold the last couple of months, tied Dan Ellis' franchise playoff record with 52 saves and set a personal mark in the process.
He'll need help from the Duchenes and Johansens if the Predators' hopes of surviving are realistic.
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