ANAHEIM, Calif. — It’s not that Patric Hornqvist could not get to the front of the net in last year’s playoff series against Chicago. The problem was that he could not get on the ice.
Officially, the Nashville Predators’ leading goal scorer during the 2009-10 season appeared in two of the six Western Conference quarterfinal games between the Predators and Blackhawks.
In reality, efforts were far less than that. He was knocked out of Game 1 with an upper body injury, retuned five games later but played just over 13 minutes in the series finale.
He had just one point, an assist.
“I had a great year last year and then when the fun part of the season started I got hurt,” Hornqvist said Monday. “Of course, I was frustrated. But I think that helped me a lot this year too. I just wanted to get back in the playoffs and show I can play in the playoffs too.”
Three games into this year’s first-round series with the Anaheim Ducks, it has been impossible not to notice the 24-year-old Swede.
“For sure, I [was] really looking forward to this series,” he said. “It’s two good teams going after each other.”
Hornqvist had a point in each of the first two contests. He had an assist on one of Mike Fisher’s two goals in Wednesday’s series opening 4-1 victory. Friday, he scored a power play goal that started a third-period rally, which fell just short, as the Predators lost 5-3 in Game 2.
He leads the team in shots on goal with 15. Not to mention the fact that he has been involved in numerous post-whistle shoving matches and verbal exchanges with Ducks’ players who took exception to his proximity to their goalie.
“Last year that was something we needed … in the Chicago series,” coach Barry Trotz said. “Patric is one of the best at getting to the front of the net — it takes courage, it takes skill — and not having him in the series, it was a big hole for us.”
Hornqvist played 80 games in the 2009-10 regular season, so his postseason absence was something different. He appeared in another 79 games this season, and his constant presence in the lineup — not to mention in front of the net — has had a positive effect, according to Trotz.
“I think the thing people recognize with Patric, there’s more and more guys seeing the effect of being string in front of the net and going to that area,” Trotz said. “You can make your career out of it. Guys like [Blake] Geoffrion are pretty good at it. … Nick Spaling does a really good job at it.
“That’s part of the whole process. When you have guys who see it day in and day out … they [start to think], ‘Hey, maybe if I do this, I’ll get more.’”
No one saw any of that in last year’s postseason.
• Day of rest: Both teams took advantage of a slight break between games and canceled their originally scheduled on-ice workouts for the day.
After having played every other day beginning last Wednesday, the sides won’t play again until Wednesday.
“Every other day is the way the playoffs normally go, but we’ll take this opportunity to rest and get ready for the game,” Nashville captain Shea Weber said.
The last time the Predators had two days between games in a playoff series was in 2007, between Games 2 and 3 against San Jose. Following a win in Game 2, they lost 3-1 in Game 3.
Nashville players reported to the practice facility for meetings and fitness work in the weight room.
“The thinking was that we’ve had some travel and we’ve been skating,” Trotz said. “Really what it was was coming in and for the most part that we wanted to get some things clear in our mind that we did and a couple things we wanted to correct and just get a little soreness out. Just a light workout and we’ll go back at it [Tuesday].”
• Twice as nice: Thus far in the series, the first goal has been critical because it also led to the second.
In all three games, one of the teams jumped out to a 2-0 lead and all three times that team won. It was Nashville in Games 1 and 3 and Anaheim in Game 2.
Sunday, when the Ducks scored twice in 30 seconds and tied it 2-2, was the first time either side managed to get even after having given up the first two goals.
“There’s so much firepower out on the ice, and guys are going so hard, I think no lead is safe,” Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter said. “When you sit back, teams can take advantage of you. So you just can’t afford to sit back.”
Through Sunday’s games, 15 of the 16 playoff teams had scored first at least once in their respective series. Only three times has the team that scored first lost. The New York Rangers, Phoenix and Chicago all did so once.
• Quote of note: “We need to stay even or get up on them [on faceoffs]. They’re a team that likes to have the puck and when we win faceoffs it’s going to take the puck out of their hands and make them chase it around for a little bit,” – David Legwand, on the fact that Nashville has won 51.5 percent of the faceoffs in the series. Not coincidentally, the team that has won more than half the faceoffs has won all three contests.
• Spreading the wealth: Nashville has five different players with at least three points. Mike Fisher has five, and Weber, Suter, Martin Erat and Sergei Kostitysn all have three.
That’s already more than in three of Nashville's previous five playoff appearances. Last season, six players got to three points or more in the six games against Chicago. The same number got there in five games against San Jose in 2007.
“You want everybody pulling their load,” Trotz said.
Of the six teams that had played three games through Sunday, the Predators were the highest scoring with 11 goals. The Ducks were tied for second with nine.
• Briefly: Nashville’s Mike Fisher and Anaheim’s Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu are the only players with at least a point in each of the first three games of the series. … Defenseman Shane O’Brien has 10 penalty minutes, which is two shy of Brendan Witt’s franchise record for a defenseman in a playoff series. Witt had 12 minutes in five games against San Jose in 2006. … The Predators have had more shots on goal than the Ducks in five straight periods and six of nine overall. Two have been even and the only one in which Anaheim had an edge was the third period of Game 1 (12-8).