#4 Anaheim Ducksvs.#3 Nashville Predators
Friday, May 5 2017, at 9:00pm EDT
Written by Chris Kubala
Nashville Predators (8-2 SU, 7-3 PL, 1-5-4 O/U) vs. Anaheim Ducks (8-3 SU, 4-7 PL, 6-3-2 O/U)
NHL: Friday, May 12, 2017, Honda Center, Los Angeles, California, 9 pm ET
Lines: Anaheim -115, Nashville +105; Over/Under: 5
It’s Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals out on the west coast. The Nashville Predators, who were the first wild card team, making them the seventh seed in the West, travel to face the Pacific Division winners, the Anaheim Ducks, Friday night. Nashville advanced to the conference finals by beating St. Louis 3-1 Sunday at home to win the series, four games to two. Anaheim was taken to the limit before edging Edmonton, 2-1, Wednesday night to win their series four games to three. The Ducks took two of three in the regular season, including a 4-3 shootout win in the last matchup on March 7.
Nashville has been stifling defensively in the postseason and that trend continued in their Game 6 elimination of the Blues. The Predators have allowed a total of 14 goals in their 10 games and haven’t allowed more than three goals in a game in the postseason. Nashville is 5th among playoff teams in goals per game with 2.8 per contest. The Predators lead the postseason in goals against with an average of 1.4 per game. Nashville is sixth in power play efficiency as they convert 20 percent of their chances with the man advantage. The Predators are tied for fourth in penalty killing as they successful kill off 87.5 percent of their shorthanded situations.
The Predators got off to a slow start but weathered the storm to come up with a win to advance to the conference finals. Nashville was outshot 9-5 in the opening period and went to the locker room down 1-0. The Predators trailed just 2:04 into the game and couldn’t capitalize on a pair of power play chances. In the second period, Nashville got back on track: the shots were even 7-7 and the score was even by the time the period was over. Roman Josi knotted the score with his fourth of the playoffs at the 35 second mark on assists from Ryan Johansen and Mattias Ekholm. That set the stage for the third period: the Predators were outshot 8-6 but scored the only two goals of the period to get the win. Johansen scored his second of the playoffs at 3:15 for the eventual game winner. Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg assisted on the goal. With the Blues pushing for the equalizer, Calle Jarnkrok hit the empty net at 19:00 to ice the game. Josi and Pekka Rinne drew assists on the goal. Rinne made 23 saves in the victory and is a lock to be in net here: he has a 1.37 GAA and a .951 save percentage in the postseason.
Anaheim fell behind in the series with the Oilers, two games to none, losing the first two contests at home. With their season hanging in the balance, the Ducks dug deep and found a way to advance to the conference finals. Anaheim comes into this game second in the postseason with an average of 3.2 goals per game offensively. The Ducks are tied for 12th in goals against as they allow three goals per contest. Anaheim is struggling on special teams: they are 14th on the power play as they convert just 13.9 percent of their chances with the man advantage. Penalty killing has been the bane of the Ducks’ existence as they are second worst in the playoffs as they successfully kill off just 69 percent of their shorthanded situations.
After two home losses to start the series, the Ducks regrouped and won Games 3 and 4 on the road before taking Game 5 in overtime at home. Anaheim was bombed in Game 6 in Edmonton, setting up the winner takes all Game 7. The Ducks were sluggish early on, getting outshot 13-7 in the first period and trailing 1-0 after the 20 minutes. In the second period, it was all Anaheim as they held a staggering 16-3 edge in shots. The Ducks got the only goal of the period when Andrew Cogliano scored his first of the postseason at 8:55 to tie the score. Ryan Kesler and Brandon Montour assisted on the goal. In the third period, with the series at stake, Anaheim was outshot 8-7 but had the only goal of the period. Nick Ritchie had the game and series winner, his second of the playoffs, at 3:21 of the third. Sami Vatanen and Corey Perry assisted on the goal. John Gibson made it stand up as he made 23 saves in the victory.
The Ducks were pushed to the limits by a young Edmonton team and one has to wonder which branch of the road that will take them. Anaheim could either be worn out by the series with the Oilers or it could fortify them with confidence going forward. Nashville is playing terrific hockey right now: they dusted the Blackhawks, who had the conference’s best record in the regular season, in the first round before dispatching St. Louis. The Predators are in the conference finals for the first time in franchise history: they’re not intimidated by the stage as Rinne steals Game 1 for the visitors.
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Christopher Kubala has been crunching stats and following sports for over 30 years. His in depth analysis and passion for sports have led him to writing books about sports, regularly being featured on sports talk radio and as the go-to person for any obscure trivia. He keeps an eye on transactions and statistics like a hawk, especially when it comes to football, both the NFL and college, the NHL, the NBA and college basketball and MLB.