The Nashville Predators entered Games 3 and 4 this weekend down 0-2 in their series with the Carolina Hurricanes and needing a miracle to even stay competitive.
Turns out they didn’t need a miracle, they just needed Juuse Saros, who stopped 52 and 58 shots in each of Nashville’s two home games in the series, helping the Preds even the series at two games apiece.
“He’s a stud,” Ryan Johansen said of Saros after the Preds’ 2nd double overtime victory on Sunday afternoon. “He’s a big part of our team’s success and our success right now in winning these last two games.”
Perhaps the understatement of the weekend from Johansen there.
First, Juuse Saros made 52 saves on Friday night, setting a franchise playoff record, and keeping the Preds alive long enough for Matt Duchene to corral a Roman Josi lob and put home the game winner with 5:06 left in the period.
Then on Sunday, Saros broke his own record with 58 saves in Game 4, including 17 saves in the two overtime periods alone. He preserved the 3-3 tie up until Luke Kunin put home the game winner with 3:50 left in the 2nd overtime.
SERIES = TIED 🚨
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 23, 2021
That’s 110 saves on 117 shots in less than 48 hours for Juuse Saros.
It’s easy to gloss over that stat, but think about it again. 110 saves in less than two days. That’s an unreal amount of work and consistent effort to keep your team in the game.
While the games wouldn’t be wins without the goals by Luke Kunin and Matt Duchene, those two don’t even have a chance to score in overtime if Saros isn’t doing incredible work in the net.
“I think it speaks volumes to where he’s at mentally-focused wise and maturity-wise, really,” John Hynes said after Sunday’s win. “Just being able to manage himself. I do think because of the type of shape he’s in, and the commitment he takes care of himself away from the rink in preparation to play. Once he gets in there and the adrenaline is going and you’re in the game, he has the physical ability to really sustain it for long periods of time.”
Long periods of time in hockey usually mean 60 minutes a night, or maybe 120 minutes every two nights, but Juuse Saros logged 94 minutes on Friday, then 96 minutes on Sunday.
That’s over three hours and 11 minutes of hockey in less than two days.
“The biggest thing with [Juuse Saros] is the ability to mentally stay with things,” Hynes continued. “He always had the physical ability, his work habits, his off-ice training, how he practices, how he prepares himself. So you knew physically he is able to step into that role. The biggest adjustment is being able to mentally focus for as long as he has, as many games as he’s played, but then also what are you doing in between games. You know, a tough loss, a big win. Those are all the things that really come down to being a goaltender that can play very consistently at the level he’s played with.”
Juuse Saros played 3 hours and 11 minutes of hockey between 6 PM Friday night and 6 PM tonight, plus he made 110 saves. #Preds
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) May 24, 2021
Most hockey minds believe that the goaltender is the most important position for any team. And, as John Hynes points out, it’s not dissimilar from another position in a sport known well throughout the state of Tennessee.
“A goalie a lot of times is like a quarterback. They’ve gotta be so focused all the time, make the right reads, do certain things, and he’s done a really good job of that.”
Juuse Saros stops a flood of Carolina shots
Going back to the games for a minute, you can’t overstate how much work Saros put in, especially in Sunday’s win.
The Hurricanes dominated the Preds for most of the game, owning a near two-to-one shot attempt share, and generating 14 high danger chances in the game. Saros was making double and triple saves on rush attempts, batting away lofted center passes, and clearing away loose pucks for much of the night.
Here’s a look at Carolina’s even strength unblocked shots in Game 4. The pure volume of shots here is incredible to look at, not to mention how many are in close around the net.
As usual, Juuse Saros’s positioning and puck tracking were excellent. He rarely had to make saves that required Superman-like acrobatics or long pad stretches across the crease. He sized up every play and got himself into perfect position, “making the save before the shot” as it were.
And notice all those missed shots by Carolina? That’s not because Carolina forgot how to shoot the puck; it’s because Saros was playing well positionally and forced the Hurricanes to aim for corners. Aim high, miss high.
Nashville’s defense, while it wasn’t perfect, also did a good job forcing Carolina to take most of its shots from outside. Getting 14 high danger chances in a game seems like a lot, but that’s on 129 shot attempts overall. Not a great percentage.
While you don’t want your goaltender to have to make 50+ saves every night (and if any goaltender on the planet deserves an easy night on Tuesday, it’s Juuse Saros), it’s got to feel like the Predators are in a good position with a goaltender like Saros in net. He’s been their best player all season and now he’s the reason they are back in the series.
And as Ryan Johansen predicted on Sunday after the game:
“He’s a stud and he’s gonna keep doing his thing.”
— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —