By Kyle Shohara
NASHVILLE – With a chance to close out their first round series against the Nashville Predators, the Ducks once again had their game faces on this morning for the pregame skate prior to Game 6 at Bridgestone Arena. After dropping the first two games in Anaheim, the Ducks adopted a business-like approach in the games that followed. They’ve climbed out of a 2-0 series deficit with three consecutive wins, and tonight they can eliminate the Predators in their own barn.
But the fourth victory is always the hardest, the players say. The desperation they showed in Games 3 and 4 in Nashville fueled them to impressive 3-0 and 4-1 victories. And despite a ragged start to Game 5, Frederik Andersen rose to the occasion with a 27-save effort that might’ve been his best of the series. The Ducks will lean on him once more tonight.
You can expect Nashville to lay it all on the line tonight, and the Ducks will have to withstand that push and respond like they’ve done over the past three games. Anaheim played desperation hockey to earn those wins, and the club will need that same level of urgency tonight if they are to come out of The Music City with a series victory.
“We would love to finish it off tonight, for sure,” said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. “But if it has to go to Game 7, it has to go to Game 7. We’re not thinking we can give one up. We’re going to go at it, and hopefully the best thing will happen for us.”
Don’t expect the Ducks to deviate from what got them to this point, says rugged defenseman Kevin Bieksa.
“We don’t change anything,” he said. “We’re not too concerned about what game in the series it is, and I think that’s the way to approach it. Who cares if it’s Game 6 or 7? It’s about going out and winning a game.”
The Ducks have been in this situation before – a 3-2 series lead with two chances to close out a team – but have failed to do so in three consecutive postseason runs. But the past is the past, they say, and tonight is all about execution.
“Much like when we had our backs against the wall after the first two games, we came out in Games 3, 4 and 5 business-like,” said Bieksa. “We knew we needed to win some games. We’re in the same situation. You don’t get many opportunities to finish a team, especially a good team over there, so you take advantage when you can.”
The Preds can get a big boost tonight if Craig Smith returns to the lineup. Out since the opening seconds of Game 3 with a lower-body injury, Smith took part in the team’s morning skate earlier today and practiced yesterday. But all Predators head coach Peter Laviolette said on the status of Smith was, “I haven't talked to anybody yet this morning.” Only time will tell.