NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Usually for the Nashville Predators, safe is what coach Barry Trotz preaches.
However, with his team facing elimination in Game 5 at Vancouver's Rogers Arena on Saturday and one of his top two-way forwards out of the lineup, Trotz went against that grain.
In meeting with the media after the game, Trotz appropriated the slogan that John Tortorella championed as coach of Tampa Bay, when Tortorella guided the Lightning to the 2004 Stanley Cup: "Safe is Death."
Annually in the playoffs, Trotz talks about the adjustments that constantly go on in a series – "the chess match." After getting off the team's charter plane on Sunday – where the Predators were greeted by hundreds of cheering fans – Trotz said that going forward Nashville would continue to open things up.
"What we did last night is what we want to continue to do," he said. "There's some things that we want to sort of refine. We did some things with urgency. We're going to go forward. They've activated people. We've activated people and that's how you open things up."
Through the first four games of the series – as Nashville fell down in the series 3-1 – the Preds failed to score more than two goals in a game. As a result, its changes in Game 5 proved to be a big breakthrough.
The hope is that Nashville, which lost both games at Bridgestone Arena, can improve those efforts at home.
"We haven't -- the last couple of games at home here -- we haven't executed what we wanted to do," Trotz said. "I said I think we showed a little bit of our immaturity because we didn't buy in 100 percent of where we wanted to go with it. (Saturday) night, we bought into what we wanted to do and we got the results. Guys can tangibly see it, tangibly feel it and I think that there's a lot of reinforcement of what we wanted to do a little bit earlier in the series and weren't able to do or didn't want to do."
Said defenseman Ryan Suter, "I think we were all just pushing the pace and excited to be out there."
Whether Nashville continues to push the pace with the same lineup remains to be seen. After joking after Saturday's game that he would not tell the media any updates on Smithson's status if he had one, Trotz said on Sunday that he did not have an update on the player's status.
If Smithson, who suffered an upper-body injury in Game 4 and did not travel to Vancouver for Game 4, cannot go in Game 5, then J-P Dumont would likely take his spot again. Dumont was minus-2 in 7:49 of time on ice in Game 5, his only appearance of the series. Smithson played 6:37 in the first period of Game 4 alone before getting injured and is plus-2 in 10 playoff games in 2011.
In addition to opening things up, Nashville got the contributions from the additional sources that Trotz had said they would need following Game 4's 3-2 loss as Joel Ward and David Legwand each scored twice.
Ward is one of the surprises of the playoffs. He had only 10 goals in the regular season but has seven now in the postseason, tying him for the League lead.
"It was huge," Ward said of the goals. "It felt good, honestly. (I) can't deny that. (It feels) good to contribute. It’s always nice to step up and be that guy, and every game we've had different guys step up at different times and (goalie Pekka Rinne)'s been good all year. Obviously, Jerred scored a big goal in the first series (in overtime) and (Jordin Tootoo) has chipped in there. I just want to be a positive guy on the ice and try to contribute."
In going up against the highest-scoring team in the regular season, Nashville faces inherent dangers in opening it up. But the Predators are such a responsible defensive team – their 2.32 goals-against per game in the regular season was third best in the League -- that Trotz can stomach the shift.
He was asked if playing more wide open takes him out of his comfort zone as a coach.
"It depends on what you mean by that," he said. "Not really. We were pretty good in terms of our detail. We didn't give up too many chances that were glaring. We didn't give up breakaways left and right or anything. I think we had three breakaways. They had one partial breakaway. I'm OK as long as it's not one-sided."
Trotz said he thinks that after Game 5, the Preds are ready for a better effort on Monday before their gold towel-waving fans, whose cheers he and the rest of the team heard at the airport on Sunday. The team "saw the success we had after the first five or six minutes," he said.
"I think it was just we built from there and reconfirmed what we wanted to do and guys started doing it more often and getting to places they have to be. The belief system in that, I think came, a little stronger and went from there."