NASHVILLE -- There is no more room for error. Win tonight and the Ducks force a winner-take-all series finale on Wednesday. Lose, and it's curtains on the season.
The Ducks are on the brink of elimination as they enter Game 6 tonight at Bridgestone Arena, trailing 3-2 in the Western Conference Final, but if there is one thing they've proven thus far in the postseason, they aren't out of it just yet. With that being said, they put themselves in this situation by failing to take advantage of a Predators team without its top center Ryan Johansen and captain Mike Fisher in Game 5 (3-1 loss).
For whatever reason, compete level was an issue that night, according to Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf, and that can't become an issue tonight. The Predators were hungrier and appeared to be the more desperate team, and their diligence paid off with the eventual game-winning goal with less than eight minutes remaining in regulation.
If the Ducks can pull off a win tonight, they'll do so in front of arguably the most hostile atmosphere they've encountered all postseason. However, the Ducks came out of Bridgestone Arena with an overtime victory in Game 4, so they've proven they can win here. After Saturday night's loss, Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle said they won't mope. Instead, they'll re-focus and get right back at it.
"We're not going to hang our heads and be doom and gloom," he said. "We'll flush this and get ourselves ready. We'll re-energize our group and look forward to playing a better game than we played [Saturday]. We've won in that building before, so it doesn't really matter where we go. We can have success if we play to our capabilities."
As far as injuries go, two players will not play tonight. Left wing Rickard Rakell and right wing Patrick Eaves did not make the trip to Nashville, Carlyle confirmed yesterday. Both are dealing with lower-body injuries - Rakell's occurring in Game 4 (he missed Game 5). Eaves hasn't played since Game 3 of the second round against Edmonton.
Goaltender John Gibson could be an option tonight despite leaving Game 5 after the first period with a lower-body ailment. Jonathan Bernier came on in relief, finishing the final two periods. For what it's worth, Carlyle said in his postgame press conference on Saturday that Gibson told him he would be in the net tonight, but time will tell.
If tonight's contest follows the trend of the first five games of this series, expect another tightly contested battle that could very well be decided by a single goal. According to the NHL, this Western Conference Final has been tied or within one goal for 89% of total playing time (284:38 of 319:49), and has seen the winning team overcome a deficit (of any margin) in four of the five contests, including all three victories by the Predators.
"It's a privilege to be here," said Chris Wagner, who scored Anaheim's lone goal in Game 5. "We've earned it. You have to take that opportunity and use it to the best of our advantage. We have two must-win games now, so we don't really have a choice whether to bring our effort or not."