And then there were four.
The Ducks and Nashville Predators are two of the final four teams remaining in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and tonight they open the Western Conference Final here at Honda Center. Game time is scheduled for 6 p.m. PT and will be televised nationally on NBCSN and broadcast locally on radio on 710 KSPN.
This marks the Ducks' fifth trip to the Western Conference Final in franchise history. It's also their second trip to the Conference Finals in the last three years (joining only Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh, 2), their fourth since 2006 (joining only Chicago, 5, and Pittsburgh, 4) and their fifth since 2003 (joining only Chicago and Pittsburgh, 5). It took a comeback victory in Game 7 of the Second Round to get them here, a 2-1 triumph over the Edmonton Oilers that broke a string of four consecutive Game 7 losses dating to 2013. The turnaround is quick for the Ducks, who played just two nights ago. The Predators, meanwhile, haven't played since their series-clinching Game 6 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Sunday.
The Predators are in unfamiliar territory with this being their first appearance in the Western Conference Final. They came close last year, but lost Game 7 of the Second Round against the San Jose Sharks. Of course, the Predators got there because they eliminated the Ducks in seven games in the First Round.
"They're the team that put us out last year," Ryan Kesler said to reporters yesterday. "It's a new year, new teams, and for some of us it means a little more. We're all playing for the same thing. Right now, it's about getting four wins before they do."
Nashville has steamrolled the competition through the first two rounds and enters tonight's game with an 8-2 record in the playoffs (.800 win percentage). As the second wild card, the Predators shocked the hockey world when they became the first eighth-seeded team in NHL postseason history to sweep a playoff series against the top seed in their own conference. They outscored the Blackhawks, 13-3, and posted 1-0 and 5-0 shutouts in Games 1 and 2 at United Center. In the series that followed, they held the Blues to 11 goals over six games. The Blues were limited to a single goal in three of them (Games 3, 4 and 6).
Veteran goaltender Pekka Rinne, whom the Ducks faced in 2011 and 2016, has allowed two goals or less in eight of 10 games in these playoffs. The 34-year-old leads the NHL in goals-against average (1.37) and save percentage (.951) entering tonight's game.
Furthermore, the Predators have scored the opening goal in seven of their 10 games thus far in the playoffs. Defenseman Ryan Ellis (9 points, 4g/5a) and center Ryan Johansen (9 points, 2g/7a) co-lead the team in points, while Ellis and defenseman Roman Josi share the team lead in goals (4). Preds d-men have factored into scoring or assisting in 16 of the team's last 18 goals and 20 of 27 overall in the playoffs, with 27 points (9g/18a) collectively from the blueline.