Just because it's the Western Conference Final doesn't mean the routine changes, at least not for the Ducks.
They went through their usual (optional) pregame skate this morning at Honda Center. John Gibson was off the ice first, one of the more clear-cut indications of the game's starter. The 23-year-old netminder enters the game with a 7-3 record in these playoffs, coupled with a 2.80 goals-against average and .908 save percentage.
"Nothing unusual," said Antoine Vermette, on the collective routine in the hours leading into Game 1 against the Nashville Predators. Perhaps the only thing unusual is the start time (6 p.m. PT).
Vermette knows a thing or two about being in the conference finals, having played against the Ducks in 2015 with the eventual Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks. "It's a privilege to be in this situation," he said today. "We worked and deserved to be in this position. With that being said, it's just one step. We have some work ahead of us."
The Predators enter this series with a league-best 8-2 record in the playoffs (.800 win percentage), but the Ducks are right behind them (8-3, .727 win percentage). Nashville pulled off an impressive sweep over the Blackhawks in the First Round and promptly dispatched the St. Louis Blues in six games. With an 8-2 record, 34-year-old Pekka Rinne isn't showing any signs of slowing down. Rinne has allowed two goals or less in eight of 10 games in the playoffs and leads the NHL in goals-against average (1.37) and save percentage (.951).
"He's a world-class goalie for a reason," said Corey Perry, who has faced Rinne in the playoffs in 2011 and 2016. "He's playing well. If he sees it, he's going to save it. We know what kind of player he is and how good he is. We're going to have to be ready to play against him."
Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle says he doesn't think there is a goaltender in the league who has as much confidence as Rinne when it comes to neutralizing dump-ins. Rinne will leave his crease at every opportunity to stop a rimmed puck around the glass or boards and quickly transition the play the other way, almost serving as a third defenseman on the ice. At the least, he kills the opposing team's forecheck and gives possession back to the Predators.
It doesn't seem like the Ducks are thinking much about what transpired 13 months ago when the Predators eliminated them in this building in the first round. That was then, and this is now.
"We're a different team," Perry said. "Got a lot of different personnel in here, but we know what happened. We're well-aware of that. It's a different season. You have to go out and prove yourself all over again.
"It's another step to our final goal. It's a building block. You have to keep jumping over those hurdles. We faced a lot of adversity in the last series, and I think it kind of helped us for what's to come."
Rookie defenseman Brandon Montour wasn't on the team at the time, but says he hasn't heard any talk inside the locker room about what transpired last April. "That was last year," he said. "This is a whole new year. We have a good group of leaders and young guys."
Potential Line Combinations
Video: The Ducks preview Game 1 of the Conference Final