ANAHEIM, Calif. — Now it’s the Nashville Predators’ turn.
With the two-game suspension to Anaheim Ducks forward Bobby Ryan completed, it is the Predators who must proceed in the Western Conference quarterfinal series without one of their top forwards.
Martin Erat did not travel with the team Thursday and was declared out for Game 5 on Friday (9 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee) at the Honda Center. Erat sustained an upper body injury early in the second period of Wednesday’s 6-3 loss in Game 4.
“It’s a big injury for us,” left wing Steve Sullivan said. “He’s been pretty much our best forward this year. We’re hoping it’s not too serious and that he can come back and play for us soon.”
Ryan was a victim of his own actions. The league handed down the suspension to the 24-year-old forward after he stomped on the skate of Nashville defenseman Jonathon Blum as the two battled for a puck in Game 2.
Erat was lost to a hit from Ducks’ forward Jarkko Ruutu. The two collided in the neutral zone, and Ruutu was penalized two minutes for interference. On Thursday, the league suspended him for one game.
His absence does not figure to be a big issue. He played just 23 games in the regular season and two of the first four in this series. His average ice time in those two postseason contests was 6:04.
“You never know with what’s going on in the league,” Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said following the contest. “I didn’t see any direct blow to the head. It was shoulder-on-shoulder. I don’t even really think there should have been a penalty called. … It wasn’t a late hit. He just took the body and it was shoulder on shoulder. I didn’t see any shoulder driven to the head or anything.”
Nashville, consequently, faces a critical contest in the series without its all-time leading playoff scorer among forwards. Erat’s 16 postseason points (seven goals, nine assists) tie him with defenseman Shea Weber for the most in franchise history.
He also tied for the team lead in points during the regular season with 50 despite the fact that he missed 18 games with a recurring back issue.
Conversely, the Ducks get back Ryan, who had 71 points during the regular season and was the Ducks’ second leading goal scorer with 34.
Without him, Anaheim managed to earn a split of two contests at Bridgestone Arena. The Ducks were held to 16 shots (the fewest by either team in the series) in Game 3, a 4-3 Nashville victory. They responded with 38 (the most by either team in the series) in Game 4.
“It’s always nice to have another skilled guy and a big body,” Carlyle said. “This series has been very physical. There is not a lot of room out there and it’s a man’s game out there. Both teams are playing very physical and there are lots of body checks and competition for space on the ice.
“To have another big body like Bobby Ryan, with some skills … you can’t say we didn’t miss him.”
Nashville used the same lineup in each of the first four contests, but now is forced to make a change. J-P Dumont and Colin Wilson are the two most likely replacements for Erat.
Dumont has the most playoff experience by far but was routinely a healthy scratch in the final weeks of the regular season as well as the start of this series. Wilson was one of only three Nashville players who appeared in all 82 games of the regular season but was pulled in favor of Steve Sullivan at the start of the postseason for inconsistent competitiveness and performance, Trotz said.
The Ducks have made consistent lineup changes and have used 22 different skaters and two goalies.
“[Erat] has been there all year long playing hard for us,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “He’s one of our top players. It was an unfortunate hit. I don’t know what I can say, but it’s unfortunate.”