Goals were not the farthest thing from Mike Fisher mind during the first-round playoff series against Detroit. They certainly were not at the forefront of his thinking either, though.
The Nashville Predators’ second-leading goal scorer during the regular season and the center of their No. 1 line did not score and had just two assists in the five games it took to eliminate the Red Wings. It was a far cry from the team-high six points (four goals, two assists) he had in Nashville’s only other playoff series victory, last season’s opening matchup with Anaheim.
The fact is, though, that he was more concerned with playing defense against Detroit’s top center Pavel Datsyuk than he was with getting offensive in his own right.
“My mindset coming in was to play real hard against him, and I think maybe I was thinking a little more defensively the whole series and trying to make it hard on him,” Fisher said. “I think I played a little more physically early in the series to try and set the tone.
“Sometimes when you play physical your emotions are up and it kind of gets away when you get offensive chances. You’re fired up a little bit more and you don’t play as patient offensively.”
Fisher and his linemates, Martin Erat and Sergei Kostitsyn, figure to have more opportunity to put up points when Nashville’s second-round series with the Phoenix Coyotes commences. Game 1 is 8 p.m. Friday and Game 2 is Sunday, both at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Ariz.
“One of the primary focuses of the first series was to shut down Datsyuk,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “I thought he was one of the difference-makers and Fisher, [Erat] and Kostitsyn did a really good job against him.
“From our standpoint, if you take away their top guy it allowed our depth to sort of take over. That was sort of the gameplan going in.”
With one goal and two assists, Datsyuk barely out-produced Fisher. Given that the 33-year-old Russian averaged nearly a point per game in 70 regular-season appearances, though, that was considered a victory for the Predators.
While Fisher and Co. focused on defense, rookie left wing Gabriel Bourque had a series-high three goals for Nashville, second-line right wing Alexander Radulov led all players with five points (one goal, four assists) and second center David Legwand had two goals and two assists.
Ray Whitney led Phoenix with 77 points during the regular season and Radim Vrbata added 62. They were the only two with more than 50 points.
Although Erat’s team-leading total for Nashville was 58 points, two others, including Fisher also topped 50.
The Predators had nine players with 15 or more goals. The Coyotes had 10 with 11 goals or more.
“I think it’s a similar matchup,” Fisher said. “They’re a similar team to us. They’re a great hockey team. They have a lot of depth and they’re a well-structured team, well-coached. They’re a good hockey team and we have to be ready.
“It’s going to be a tough series.”
Even so, it ought to be a little easier for him to get some goals.
We’re going to have to fight for them, get in those areas — drive to the net and get in front of [goalie Mike] Smith,” Fisher said. “I think we did a good job against [Detroit’s Jimmy] Howard in the first series. We have to do more of that. I think the way Smith’s been playing it’s going to be tough. We have to make it hard on him.
“It’s a little give-and-take sometimes. I feel like I can definitely play offensively a little better and part of that may be because I was just focused on playing a more emotional, physical game.”