After a late season push, the Predators clinched the NHL Western Conference’s first Wild Card spot in March. Now, with the Stanley Cup Playoffs beginning, Nashville heads west to take on a familiar postseason foe in the Anaheim Ducks. The Preds are hoping for a repeat of five seasons ago, when they topped the Ducks for the franchise’s first postseason series victory.
For as hot as the Preds were late in the season, the Ducks were even better in the second half of the season. Anaheim went an astonishing 34-10-5 after the Christmas break, which moved the Ducks from worst to first in the Pacific Division. The Ducks were led by the league’s number 1 power play (23.1%) and penalty kill (87.2%), becoming the first team to finish first in both since the 1984-85 New York Islanders. The Ducks also had top offensive players Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Nashville villain Ryan Kesler, with each scoring more than 53 points this season. While the Ducks have scored in bunches, Anaheim also brought home the Jennings Trophy, awarded to the team who allows the fewest goals on the season. The Duck duo of John Gibson and Frederick Andersen has been a big key to the Anaheim turnaround by allowing 2.29 goals per game.
After a strong start to the season, Nashville played inconsistent hockey between November and February and was in danger of missing out on the playoffs. However, the Predators were able to turn it on late, going 17-9-6 since the beginning of February. A mid-season trade with Columbus for Ryan Johansen has allowed the Preds to play Coach Peter Laviolette’s attacking style with more consistency.
Forward Filip Forsberg has been an absolute star for the Predators up front, scoring 30 goals for the first time in his young career. Defensemen Roman Josi and Shea Weber have put up points this year as well, with Josi leading the team in assists and surpassing the 60-point total, and Weber leading the team in power play goals (14) and points (26).
While the Predators have been able score, the goaltending has been more inconsistent than any of the previous seasons with Pekka Rinne between the pipes. Rinne was even benched for Carter Hutton at one point this season. Nashville does hold one clear advantage over the Ducks in coaching. “Lavy” has a Stanley Cup title with the Hurricanes in 2006 and another trip to the finals in 2010, while Ducks’ coach Bruce Boudreau is known as a great regular season coach, but a bit of a choke artist in the playoffs.
Nashville topped Anaheim in the season series, 2-1. However, all three games came before November 18th, when the Ducks were in the midst of an early-season slump. With so much talent and their momentum, the Ducks look to be prohibitive favorites in this series. For Nashville to shock the hockey world, Pekka Rinne must return to his “im-Pekka-ble” form of years past and the Predators need to avoid the bane of their season, overtime. If Rinne returns to his old form and Nashville can steal one game on the west coast, Nashville could be partying like its 2011.
Friday, April 15 at 9:30pm CT @ Anaheim| NBCSN
Sunday, April 17 at 9:30pm CT @ Anaheim | NBCSN
Tuesday, April 19 at 8:30pm CT @ Nashville | USA
Thursday, April 21 at 7:00pm CT @ Nashville | CNBC
Saturday, April 23 TBD @ Anaheim (If Necessary)
Monday April 25 TBD @ Nashville (If Necessary)
Wednesday, April 27 TBD @ Anaheim (If Necessary)
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