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Predators' challenge: Find balance of practice, days off, hit next round at full strength

Nashville Predators players knock the net loose as they swarm goalie Pekka Rinne, of Finland, after they beat the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 in Game 5 of a first-round NHL hockey playoff series on Friday, April 20, 2012, in Nashville, Tenn. The Predators won the series 4-1. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

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Nashville Predators players knock the net loose as they swarm goalie Pekka Rinne, of Finland, after they beat the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 in Game 5 of a first-round NHL hockey playoff series on Friday, April 20, 2012, in Nashville, Tenn. The Predators won the series 4-1. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Coach Barry Trotz is trying to mix time on the ice with some much-needed rest for his Predators, looking to avoid any rust or letdown for the first NHL team to advance out of the opening round of the playoffs.

Trotz had his Predators back on the ice Sunday. They will practice again Monday, then take Tuesday off before returning to practice Wednesday and Thursday.

Nashville's challenge is a layoff that could last a week before the second round of the Western Conference playoffs begin, and the Predators could face any of the teams still alive. So Trotz has no problem if each of the other three series go to a seventh game.

"Let them go seven and beat each other up," Trotz said. "Perfect."

Trotz gave the Predators the day off Saturday immediately after they clinched their opening series 4-1 Friday night with a 2-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings. He brought them back in for a 40-minute session of hard skating Sunday. Trotz said he scheduled this week using his experience of a 10-day layoff once when he coached in the American Hockey League, and he also consulted associate coach Peter Horachek and assistant Lane Lambert.

The Predators want to avoid a letdown going into the second round like they experienced last spring, dropping the first game at Vancouver in a series they lost in six games.

"We didn't re-engage into the next series," Trotz said. "We sort of waited for it to come, and we had a couple, I would say, substandard practices, and it showed in Game 1 in Vancouver. We learned that, and we talked about that. We don't know who we're going to play, so let's not put too much focus into that today."

Trotz's message to his Predators was to focus on themselves because they want to keep playing hockey for a while. Finding that balance between mental and physical preparation is the key.

Goaltender Pekka Rinne led the NHL with 43 wins in the regular season. The 6-foot-5 Finn is a night person who likes to sleep late when he can, so he's catching up on his rest.

"We talked about it a little bit this morning in a meeting, about last year we played solid against Anaheim in the first round and came out a little flat against Vancouver in the second round," Rinne said.

Captain Shea Weber said the Predators celebrated ousting the Red Wings and advancing Friday night and have turned their attention to trying to stay ready. The memory of that opening defeat looms large as motivation. Weber said the Canucks took it to the Predators in that opening game, a 1-0 loss.

The Predators are watching some of the other games going on. But centre Mike Fisher said there's no rooting for any team to win.

Time to focus inward can be a good thing for Nashville.

Defenceman Hal Gill, who has a lower body injury from blocking a shot April 5, practiced again Sunday, and Trotz said the 6-foot-7 Gill now can do some things he couldn't the past two weeks, such as bending down to block shots and getting back up. More time off before the next series could allow the key penalty killer to be available.

The Predators also need to hone their power play. The NHL's best unit in the regular season scoring power-play goals at 21.6 per cent has been better than only Boston and Chicago in the post-season, scoring only two goals on 22 power plays, a conversion rate of 9.1 per cent.

"We have to stay on the task at hand," Weber said. "We know we haven't accomplished anything yet and have a lot of work left to do."

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.Twitter.com/teresamwalker

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