When folks look at the Nashville Predators roster and pick out the key players that will lead the team to playoff success, the names that are mentioned are Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne. Coach Barry Trotz's name is also mentioned.
All three players are expected to be the players that are relied upon to stop the dynamic scoring of Anaheim's top line that consists of Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, and Ryan Getzlaf. The Preds will also need to guard against Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu who scored seben of the Duck's eleven goals during the season series.
Two players that will also have key roles in a Predators playoff run this season are Shane O'Brien and Mike Fisher. Both are newcomers to a Predators post season effort.
In the preseason, when the Predators acquired Shane O'Brien, I wrote that the Predators were making a statement and that the move was made for the post season to add grit and playoff experience to the team that had never made it out of the first round in six playoff appearances in the last seven seasons.
I also pointed out that his addition would make two players better, Cody Franson and Pekka Rinne. Rinne had his best season this year and Franson matured into a solid NHL two-way defenseman with O'Brien as a team mate.
O'Brien played as advertised this season plus added a lot to the young Predator's locker room. None of the off the ice issues that troubled him in Vancouver was evident in Music City. He gave the team a bit of a swagger and was always there to take up for his teammates when opponents tried to take advantage of less physical player or crowd Rinne in the net.
Steve Sullivan gave O'Brien the ultimate compliment, "He's had experience with Vancouver. He's feisty. He's hard to play against. He's gets a little nasty. So he's the type of player that other players don't like to play against and that is the type of player you want on your team. He's going to be a huge contributor in the playoffs."
O'Brien has played in 28 playoff games including 22 in the last two seasons in Vancouver. He knows what is required in the NHL's second season and will help stabilize the second defensive pairing against the high flying Ducks offense. A key will be for O'Brien to play with grit and to draw more penalties than he commits.
He also needs to play with discipline and avoid fighting majors with the Ducks team that is known for dropping the gloves when they fall behind in a game. With O'Brien playing defesne, when you lose him for five minutes for fighting, it puts unneeded pressure on the remaining five defensenmen that is not needed in this series.
The other key player in the Predators post season in the newly acquired Mike Fisher. Barry Trotz said, "If we don't make the Fisher deal, we don't get in the playoffs."
Many folks did not understand the type of player Fisher was when he first came to the Preds. The fan base has longed for a 40-50 goal scorer since the early days of the franchise and Fisher is not that that guy. Some fans were disappointed when Fisher did not get on the scoreboard very often in his first month with the team.
The reality was that he was injured but still played with a warrior mentality giving 110% every game in spite of the pain. Once healed, Fisher tallied eight points in the Predators last seven games of the season and looked like the player the Preds were looking for when they picked him up, not only for this season but the next two.
Fisher has the most playoff experience of anyone on the Predators team. He has played in 75 post season games including a trip to the finals against the same Anaheim Ducks in 2007. He has 14 goals and 14 assists in his second season career.
He is expected to bring grit and stability to his line that includes Sergei Kostitsyn and Patric Hornqvist. His leadership, confidence, and experience will do wonders to make the two young Preds play with maturity beyond their experience level.
So while you hear all the pundits and "experts" talk about the Ducks big three taking on the Preds' top D-men, sit back and enjoy watching what is going on in the trenches when Shane O'Brien and Mike Fisher are on the ice.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass