By Kyle Shohara
Oh, what a series this has become. Four games have been etched in stone, each with its own unique story.
It’s a tale of two different series, really, with each team using road-ice advantage to win games away from its barn. What started out as a wake-up call in Game 1 all of a sudden turned into an all-out concern as the Ducks found themselves in a daunting 2-0 deficit going into hostile territory. But, true to Ducks form, at least for this season, they somehow found a way to claw themselves out of the hole with two convincing victories in The Music City.
They hope to hit the right note inside their house this time around, with an all-important Game 5 taking place later this afternoon in front of what is to be a raucous sellout crowd at Honda Center. The winner of this game, of course, puts the loser on the brink of elimination. Regardless of how this game turns out, there will be a Game 6 on Monday night in Nashville.
So today, the Ducks will lean on the broad shoulders of goaltender Frederik Andersen, who, in those two games in Nashville, managed to allow just a single goal on 58 shots in 120 minutes of action. That equates to a .983 save percentage and a 0.50 goals-against average against a Predators squad that lit the lamp six times in Games 1 and 2.
“The best offense is a good defense” is an adage the Ducks adopted earlier in the season when they struggled for goals, and a buy-in to a system that preached defense-first hockey turned belief into reality.
The proof is in the pudding, they say, as the Ducks enter today's contest leading the playoffs in faceoff win percentage (53.9%), ranking second in PK% (94.7%) and tied for second in fewest goals allowed (7). They’ve given up just one power-play goal in 19 attempts, and that was back in Game 2 when Predators captain Shea Weber beat John Gibson with a booming one-timer.
One of Anaheim’s best defensive forwards just so happens to lead the team in postseason scoring, adding a splash of personification to the aforementioned maxim. No player in this series has more points than Andrew Cogliano, who has two goals and two assists in the four games thus far. Known for his diligent defensive work on the team's shutdown line with Ryan Kesler and Jakob Silfverberg, Cogliano's offensive production can be seen as icing on the cake for a team that prides itself on its work on the defensive side of the puck.
Known for telling it like it is, Cogliano reaffirms the work that still needs to be done.
“Just because we’ve won two games doesn’t mean we’ve won anything,” he said yesterday, after an optional workout at Honda Center. “We have to keep things rolling. Mentally, guys need to stay sharp. We got ourselves back in the series, and, if anything, we established how we need to play in order to win.”
They went to Nashville with one goal in mind, and that was to even up the series and bring it back to a place that they know can push them to new heights. It was proven during the regular season, where they went 25-10-6 in 41 home games, leading the league in PK%, ranking second in goals allowed, third in FOW% and fifth in PP%.
But the playoffs are far different. Momentum doesn’t seem to have the same lasting quality as it does during the regular season, for each game in the postseason really is its own entity.
“We got our home ice back,” said Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf. “That’s what we fought all year to have. We responded the way we wanted to [in Games 3 and 4]. We went up there and got things done.”
What spurred them to their fourth straight Pacific Division title was a belief that they could overcome anything. This team could've folded in the opening month of the season, or in December, when the days were darkest. Or even after their second straight 3-2 loss in this series. But as Ryan Kesler once famously said, “Ducks hockey, it's never easy. Go the hard way, not the easy way.”