ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) - The Nashville Predators are still stunned by the loss of top scorer Ryan Johansen to a season-ending thigh injury after Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.
They’re also determined not to allow his absence to stop their quest for their first berth in the Stanley Cup Final.
In the franchise’s first public comments about losing Johansen, Peter Laviolette declined to give any details about the top-line center’s apparently serious injury when the coach spoke before Game 5 against the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday night. Nashville and Anaheim split the series’ first four games.
“That’s a factor, sure, that we’re without Ryan,” Laviolette said. “With regard to our players’ heads, they’ve been in the right place, I think, through the entire playoffs, and they remain in the right place. We’ve got a job to do tonight. We wish Ryan was here with us, but he’s not. We’ve got to move forward, and there’s a lot of trust and belief inside of our room that we can be successful.”
Laviolette only confirmed that Johansen was hurt during Game 4, but played through the injury and finished the game. Afterward, doctors determined Johansen needed emergency surgery.
Johansen’s teammates apparently had no idea he was seriously hurt during the game. Johansen skated slowly to the bench and grimaced in pain after a late-game check from Ducks defenseman Josh Manson, but it’s still unclear whether the injury was caused by that innocuous hit.
“I had no idea it happened,” Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. “Apparently it wasn’t that big of a deal, or big of a hit, or what have you. So yeah, it’s tough for him. He had a really good go here in the playoffs, especially, and we’re definitely going to miss him.”
Johansen led the Predators with 13 points in 14 playoff games while centering their dangerous top line alongside Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson. Laviolette also declined to give any update on the condition of center Mike Fisher, who took a hit to the head in Game 4 when he ducked in front of a leaping Manson.
Fisher, who is scoreless in 14 playoff games, also was scratched for Game 5, leaving Nashville without two centers.
Frederick Gaudreau made his Stanley Cup playoff debut in their absence, centering a line with Colin Wilson and Austin Watson early on. Young forward Miikka Salomaki returned to the Preds’ playoff lineup after a five-game absence, and veteran center Vern Fiddler also returned to Nashville’s lineup after sitting out the past two games.
“I think we’re very deep up front,” Wilson said. “We have a lot of great centermen and a lot of forwards who can contribute offensively. Obviously Joey, certainly (is) leading our team in points there and doing a great job, but there’s a lot of offensive talent up front, and we’re confident in ourselves.”
Johansen hadn’t missed a game since joining the Predators in a trade with Columbus in January 2016. He shared the club scoring lead with Arvidsson in the regular season, posting 61 points.
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