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Nashville Predators

Filip Forsberg’s clutch play is salt in wound for idle Capitals

Forsberg
(Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire)

It’s bad enough for the Washington Capitals that they have to watch the NHL’s conference semifinals from the comfort of their own homes or vacation rentals. Nashville forward Filip Forsberg is adding insult to injury.

The Predators forward notched a goal for the fourth straight game of the four-game-old Western Conference Final on Thursday, making him the first Predators player in franchise history to do so, and the first NHL player to do so since Chicago’s Dustin Byfuglien did it against San Jose in 2010.

With the goal, Forsberg tied Joel Ward’s franchise record for goals in a single playoff year with his seventh. The Caps could have used such clutch scoring against Pittsburgh. In 14 games — one more than the Caps played in this postseason — Forsberg has more goals than any Washington player managed in the postseason.

Even better, “he seems to be the guy who’s always finding a way to get it done in those crucial points in games,” said linemate Ryan Johansen, who is now out for the playoffs after thigh surgery, increasing Forsberg’s importance to the Predators’ Stanley Cup hopes.

Forsberg was once, of course, the property of the Capitals; a 2012 first-round (11th overall) draft pick. But on April 2, 2013, then-GM George McPhee inexplicably traded him to Nashville for aging forward Martin Erat and Michael Latta. Erat played 61 games over two seasons for Washington, managing two goals and 27 points, before he was traded to Arizona. He is currently playing in the Czech Republic.

Latta played 113 games over three seasons for Washington, notching four goals and 17 points. He is currently playing with the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate in Rockford, Ill.

Forsberg, 22, has 91 goals and 191 points in 237 NHL regular season games. His 90 goals over the past three seasons are better than all but 12 players, and he scored 10 goals in February, the first time that has happened in a calendar month in nearly 16 years.

There is little doubt now that he is the best forward from a 2012 draft class that also included defensemen Shayne Gostisbehere and Colton Parayko and goalies Matt Murray and Frederik Andersen.

“Filip is among the most skilled, dynamic talents we’ve ever had in the organization and is an integral part of our success for the next six years and beyond,” Predators general manager David Poile said last summer when the team signed Forsberg to a six-year, $36 million extension. “While we have already seen his creativity, hockey sense and puck skills, he has yet to reach the peak of his abilities. We have full confidence that he will continue to blossom into one of the top players in the world.”

Forsberg may be reaching that next level of ability in the postseason. He tied Game 1 against Anaheim midway through the first period, he tied Game 3 early in the third period on a rebound, and he tied Game 4 with 36 seconds left to play to give Nashville a brief chance at taking a commanding 3-1 lead against the Ducks. In 14 playoff games, his gaudy 57.75 Corsi For percentage leads the team, according to naturalstattrick.com.

“Obviously when you’re out there, you want to help the team,” Forsberg told the Tennessean on Tuesday after his big goal in Game 3. “It doesn’t matter if we’re up or down, you always want to help the team. It came obviously at a good moment, but at the same time, if I didn’t get that goal, I’m sure someone else would have.”

Forsberg didn’t have this same sort of success in last year’s postseason. He had just two goals and four points in 14 games. It was just his second postseason, and he was only 21, but Johansen still believes that performance is driving him.

“I think the way last year’s playoffs went for him as an individual, it kind of motivated him throughout the season and now in these playoffs to be the difference-maker and be such a clutch player,” Johansen said.

That ability has become his moniker.

“We kind of call him Mr. Clutch now,” defenseman Yannick Weber said Friday.  “The whole year, we always know that he’s going to bring something special to the table. He could have had a couple yesterday, and at the end that clutch goal was huge, just unfortunately the game went into OT.

“He’s a very talented player, not just offensively, but defensively. He’s a smart player and his skill level is really high, one of the best in the league. It’s definitely great to see him being on his peak at the right moment.”

Johansen’s injury is clearly a major blow. The Predators will need Forsberg at his peak for the rest of the postseason.

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