Barry Trotz was not afraid to juggle his lineup from game-to-game or even period-to-period during the Nashville Predators’ recent playoff series with the Detroit Red Wings. Often, it did the trick.
“There’s no magic to it, but sometimes I don’t mind flopping out a guy or putting a different [center] with two wingers,” Nashville’s coach said. “That doesn’t bother me much.
“Sometimes a line can go a little bit stale for a while, but if you break them up and then put them back together it sort of rejuvenates them sometimes.”
The Predators’ wealth of options were on full display as they eliminated the Red Wings in five games and advanced to the second round of the postseason for the second straight year.
Twenty-one different players were in the lineup at least once during the series, which ended last Friday with a 2-1 victory.
Both goals in the clincher came from a line that included center David Legwand, right wing Alexander Radulov and left wing Gabriel Bourque. That trio did not start the series together. Instead, Bourque took the place of Andrei Kostitsyn, who had two points in the first three games beginning midway through Game 4, a 3-1 Predators’ victory in which all the goals — including one each by Bourque and Legwand — came in the third period.
“You go out there in the third and it’s a 0-0 game and it ends 3-1 and you get scoring from all different lines and combinations it’s kind of interesting,” Legwand said. “Throughout the course of the year you kind of play with everybody and you get used to each others’ tendencies. When you can do that and in the middle of the playoffs switch on the fly, I think it’s a positive for us mostly.”
Only two Nashville players who appeared in every game of the series — defensemen Ryan Suter and Roman Josi — failed to record a point.
In all 15 different players, including 12 forwards, had at least a goal or an assist led by Radulov with five points (one goal, four assists), Bourque and Legwand with four points each. By comparison, only eight Red Wings’ forwards had a point.
“I didn’t think we had enough up front and I think it showed in our scoring,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “We had lots of pressure at times and that hurt us a lot for sure. … They probably have seven top six forwards so that gives them good depth and the Bourque kid played great. I don’t consider him a ‘top six’ yet but he played great; so when you go through that process they were deeper than we were.”
Bourque, a rookie, had a season-high three goals despite the fact that he averaged less ice time than any other forward who regularly was in the lineup. That time was divided among three different lines, depending on the game and situation, and did not include time on the power play or penalty kill.
His role simply was to make whatever line he was on go — and he did.
“Sure, you have a few more options but at the same time you can’t be a mad scientist every game and every period and hope it works,” Trotz said. “You have to stabilize. You have to trust. And the players have to trust each other in terms of knowing where they are all the time.
“… We have a few more options this year. We’ve got depth within the organization and, obviously, we were very active at the trade deadline. So that gives you more depth.”