ANAHEIM — These are the National Hockey League playoffs, where a crippling blow can arrive at any moment — and to anybody. Just ask the Nashville Predators.
In a stunning development first reported by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman on Friday afternoon Nashville has lost first-line centre and leading playoff scorer Ryan Johansen for the remainder of the playoffs after he underwent surgery on his thigh Thursday evening in Nashville.
Johansen suffered what was thought to be a charley horse — or deep thigh bruise — midway through Game 4 of the Predators’ Western Conference Final versus the Anaheim Ducks. Johansen played through the injury for the latter half of the game, but it worsened post-game, and Vanderbilt University doctors examining the Predators centre decided that immediate and season-ending surgery was necessary.
The Predators flew Friday morning to California for Saturday’s crucial Game 5, the series knotted at two games apiece.
“During last night’s game Ryan Johansen sustained a left thigh injury that required emergency surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center,” the Predators said in a statement released on Twitter. “The surgery was successful, and the estimated recovery time is two to three months.”
The Predators made no team personnel available for comment regarding Johansen’s injury Friday.
After collecting four points in the opening two games of the west final, Johansen was held pointless in Games 3 and 4, though his ice time didn’t diminish despite the injury. He played 27:28 in Thursday’s overtime loss, and was on the ice for Filip Forsberg’s dramatic game-tying goal with less than 36 seconds to play.
Johansen appeared to first suffer the injury after taking a hit by Ducks defenceman Josh Manson with 4:35 to go in the second period. The Predators centreman appeared to be limping off the ice after absorbing the contact but came back out for his next shift and played the remainder of the game.
Corey Perry scored in overtime for Anaheim to even the series at 2-2.
Losing Johansen would be akin to the Ducks losing their captain, star centre Ryan Getzlaf. Johansen is on the first power-play unit and is also the Preds’ best faceoff man at 54.3 per cent this spring. He is their offensive leader, and was enjoying the longest playoff foray of his NHL career.
The loss is particularly daunting considering that the Ducks were the NHL’s best faceoff team in the regular season. No team left in these playoffs can answer the Ducks in the faceoff circle, not when Anaheim can throw out Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Antoine Vermette.
“There’s a lot of confidence in our group and the way we played the game,” Predators head coach Peter Laviolette said Friday, before the injury had been reported by Friedman. “The way we’ve played it all through the playoffs, the way we played it through the second half of the year. And I think there’s good confidence when it comes to being successful.”
His linemates have primarily been Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson, who will now have to find success with a new centre.
“It’s a best-of-three now, and we’ve got to get ready for a tough game down there,” said Arvidsson. “It’s going to be fun.”
Fun, indeed. The Predators are now faced with the same kind of adversity that the Edmonton Oilers dealt with when they lost their No. 1 goalie, Dwayne Roloson, to a knee injury in Game 1 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final. The Oilers would go on to lose Game 7 to the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Predators already lost forward Kevin Fiala for the season when he broke his leg in the opening game of Round 2 against St. Louis. This cuts much deeper though, with only two wins separating Nashville from its first ever Stanley Cup Final.