Game 6 in the Nashville Predators’ first-round series against the Anaheim Ducks saw the return of winger Craig Smith. The Preds reaped the rewards on their way to a 3-1 victory to force the first Game 7 in team history.
Nashville missed the influential forward in their three-game losing streak to the Ducks. The Madison, Wisconsin native got injured early in Game 3 and the Predators looked like a different team than the one that took the first two games of the series at the Honda Center.
The Predators looked sluggish and didn’t have the same jump as they did it the first two games. Smith’s return helped his team stay alive in its quest to win a series for only the third time in franchise history.
The University of Wisconsin product played a big role in the Predators’ first two wins of the series on the road. He was a combined plus-3 and notched a goal and an assist in Game 2. He was initially given credit for the Game 1 winner, but Filip Forsberg was eventually listed as the winning scorer after the puck bounced off an Anaheim defender and past John Gibson.
Smith was making plays that didn’t get on the scoresheet in the first two games as he used his speed and intensity as a part of the Predators’ forecheck that flustered the Ducks in the opening two games.
However, Smith also brings an edge to the game as it showed in this tweet during this faceoff in Game 6.
— NHL (@NHL) April 26, 2016
Game 3 started off disastrous for the American-born winger as he suffered a lower-body injury just 20 seconds into his first shift. He went out for another 45-second shift before being shut down for the rest of the night.
The Predators had to mix and match their line combinations to compensate for the loss of the hard-working forward. Colin Wilson, James Neal and Calle Jarnkrok each tried their hand at filling the role, but there was something missing between them and normal linemates Mike Ribeiro and Forsberg.
Defenseman and team captain Shea Weber told Adam Vingan of The Tennessean how much Smith was missed.
“It was a little more mix and match (tonight),” Predators captain Shea Weber said. “Obviously he’s been a great player for us and gives us some depth, so it’s time for other guys to step up — if it’s going to be extended — and fill his role.”
Rumors popped on Monday that Smith would return after he skated earlier in the morning. Sure enough, he was ready to go and the Predators were a different team with him in the lineup than the one that lost three straight.
He may not have been at full strength, but he was a welcome force in the lineup. There’s no denying his passion for the game and the Predators will need all hands on deck if they want to win their first Game 7 in franchise history.
What the Return of Craig Smith Means
It’s always nice when a 20-plus goal scorer return to the lineup, but Smith means more than just goals. He’s one of the fiercest players on the roster and will give everything he has.
Smith is not one of the flashiest players in the league like a Forsberg or a Neal, but there’s no doubt that he means the world to his team.
Covered hockey since attending SUNY Oswego in Upstate New York in the early 2000s. Has written about college, major junior and professional hockey for the last five years.
Resides in Watertown, NY.