Friday, May 6, 2016

Mike Fisher just the center to boost the Predators

By Larry Wigge

Suddenly ... a difference maker.

How can Mike Fisher, a career third line checker, be placed on a line with power forwards James Neal and Colin Wilson get such a promotion and the move works in the playoffs?

Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette replaced center Mike Ribeiro with Fisher prior to Game 3 of the Western Conference playoff series with the San Jose Sharks leading two games to nothing.

It worked.

Fisher scored two goals, including a rebound goal 111:12 into a third overtime period to give the Predators a 4-3 victory to tie the series at two games apiece.

When asked to replay the winning goal Fisher paused.

"I'm so tired, I almost forgot," explained Fisher, who was reminded he took one step right and beat Martin Jones on the rebound.

After pausing to regroup his thoughts, Fisher continued, "That was a good play to get Mattias Ekholm free in the middle there. He got a shot through ... and I just kind of go in there and got the rebound and got it home."

The new line created more than the winning goal. Fisher, Neal and Wilson combined for all four goals in the victory -- Wilson beat San Jose goaltender Martin to the puck for a goal 41 seconds into the contest, Fisher made it 2-1 midway through the second period and Neal tied up the contest, 3-3, with 4:21 left in regulation time.

"They invested a lot. There’s a lot of character in our room," said Laviolette. "To win a game like that is big if you think about the other scenario. You're 3-1 the other way; one win, three losses. This ties it up 2-2; it shortens the series. Our guys played like champs tonight."

At 111:12, it is the longest game in Predators history. It is also the longest of the 2016 postseason, passing the 96:00 the New York Islanders and Florida Panthers played in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference First Round series.

"Just trying to find energy and just play together," Fisher said. "Play simple, try and help each other out. They're doing kind of the same, and obviously play slowed down. You knew it was going to be one of those plays where you just get pucks to the net, rebounds, whatever."

"He's a class act," Laviolette said of Fisher. "His leadership and just how he carries himself, you respect the way he plays on the ice and the leader he is in the locker room. He's an important piece for our team."

A difference maker. The lead singer.

Sounds like a Hollywood script ... or something from a country song in Music City.

For Fisher, the latter may be true, since he is married to country music star Carrie Underwood. After a 13-goal, 10-assist season, the Peterborough, Ontario, native, now has four goals and two assists in 11 playoff games. He has two goals and one assist since the promotion.

He's 35 now and has one year left on his contract with the Predators. But this checking-to-scoring-line has something to it.

Fisher played in the Stanley Cup finals for Ottawa back in 2007, when the Senators were defeated the Anaheim Ducks.

"Yeah, I think everyone -- when you get up into your mid-30s -- you never know when you're going to get a chance again to compete for the Cup," said Fisher. "That's why you obviously want to get into the playoffs because anything can happen. I feel like we've got a great chance, as good a chance as anyone to compete. There are no easy matchups, but we feel really good about our team and our chances."

Fisher has been a playoff regular, helping his teams teams reach the postseason in 11 of his 16 NL seasons. He has 100 playoff games to his credit, almost twice as many as Mike Ribeiro (55), the Predators player with the second-most playoff games.

When you make a trade for a player line February, there can be only one thought in mind.

How will he help us for the playoff push?

On February 10, 2011, the Nashville Predators gave up a first-round pick that year, plus a third-rounder in 2012 for longtime center Mike Fisher. Originally a second-round pick, 44th overall, by the Senators in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft.

The Peterborough, Ontario, native, wouldn't be considered a goal-scorer by trade ... but he would be considered a top six player. Five times, Fisher topped the 20-goal mark in his 16 seasons in the NHL.

But it's the other things you get from the 6-1, 209-pound center.

"I know my job and what I have to do, and I have to focus on that," Fisher said proudly. "If your mind is focused on zero points ... it's like golf, when you think about not hitting the ball in the water, you hit it in the water. I'm thinking about what I have to do. Points aren't all there is to my game. It's about contributing in all parts.

"I'm no different player than I ever was. I'm going to be better. It might take a bit of time, but I don't feel my game is that much different than it was."

Regardless of the numbers, Fisher flies into corners with an almost reckless abandon. If he were a baseball player, he'd be a wall-crasher or a base-stealer with a dirty uniform.

Former-coach Barry Trotz has learned in just over 100 games with Fisher in the lineup that he'll give every bit of energy.

"His character on and off the ice," said Trotz. "He's hard-nosed. He's sort of like David Backes.

"He can give you some offense. He doesn't cheat. He plays hard. Every night he empties his tank."

"We were seeking a top-six forward and Mike Fisher was the player we set our sights on," Predators GM David Poile said in a statement. "He plays playoff-style hockey all season long. He plays on the power play, kills penalties, is strong on draws and can match up against any opposing line."

Most general managers just most players by using the eye test. Poile and Trotz both agreed that Fisher was a perfect fit.

"Our players knew him," said Trotz. "He skated in the summer. He's married to Cary Underwood."

Married to the Grammy-award winning singer, it was either Nashville or Los Angeles, two places Underwood calls home.

Said Trotz, "He's fit in great. It was really a classy move by Ottawa to allow him to come to Nashville. They knew he was a pretty vital part of the Sens."

Mike Fisher had met Cary Underwood at one of her concerts in 2008. After a year of dating, Fisher, popped the question last December 20, 2009, with a 12-carat ring worth about $800,000.

"We're both obviously excited and very happy," Fisher said.

On July 10, 2010, Fisher married Underwood at The Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro, Georgia, with more than 250 people in attendance. Underwood surprised Fisher by having one of their favorite artists, Brandon Heath, sing his song "Love Never Fails" for their first dance.

Who was the biggest influence in Fisher's life? He'll tell you ...

His parents, Karen and Jim. They led by example.

"They never pushed hockey on me," Mike said. "They let me make my own decisions. They've always been very supportive."

What's was your most extravagant toy?

"I'd say my Four-wheeler or snowmobile," he said. "They're my kind of toys. Especially the Four-wheeler. I like to drive it around the property, plow the driveway, stuff like that."

Which player do you most like to be compared to?  

"I like the way Mike Peca plays. Same with Joe Thornton," he said. "But I'm obviously never going to be Thornton."

What was your favorite team growing up?

"The Leafs," Mike said. "That was back when they had Doug Gilmour."

There's a little bit of Doug Gilmour in Fisher, though he mightn't be a small as Gilmour.

Yes, indeed. It was putting the ultimate competitor in the lineup filled with Junkyard Dogs, according the Poile.

"The coach can play him in all the situations," he said. "He plays the most important minutes against the opponents best players. He kills penalties plays the power play."

But most of all ...

"To us, he was a Predators type of player," continued Poile. "He was not a star -- a player who was going to score 50 goals. He's competitive every night. He's hard to play against.

"He's one of those type of guys who you would say is a team player. It's always been his MO whererever he's played. If you've got to go to war, he would certainly be on my team.

"We wanted to make this deal. It made sense. It's his hard work. His compete level was off the charts. You can win with Mike Fisher."

Said Mike Fisher, "Nashville plays a system that is perfect for my game. It's intensity, hard work, good solid team game. ... It's all about the team and I think I'm going to fit that mold very well. It's a more aggressive style than we played in Ottawa."

A perfect fit.

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