There will be no take-backs or second chances tonight, and critical errors or lapses in judgement could make for a very, very long offseason. The winner of this Game 7 between the Ducks and Nashville Predators moves on to the Second Round to face the San Jose Sharks, while the loser has the rest of spring and all of summer to think of what could’ve been.
The series has reached its apex because the Preds gutted out a 3-1 victory two nights ago at Bridgestone Arena in a game they had to win. They were the desperate team, and it showed. The Ducks, however, had their backs against the wall after falling into a 2-0 series hole but followed with three impressive wins to take a 3-2 series lead. Each team has won twice on the road and once at home.
The Ducks held a full morning skate earlier inside Honda Center, and shortly afterward captain Ryan Getzlaf said he liked his team’s preparation leading into this winner-take-all.
“I thought our morning skate was great,” Getzlaf said. “The preparation has been going the right way. We’re excited for tonight. You’re fighting for your life now. It’s a do-or-die moment for us. We have to go out there and play to win, and we have to execute the things we talk about. That comes down to preparation.”
“We’ve played a couple of Game 7s before, so we know how it’s going to be out there, how the crowd is going to be,” said Hampus Lindholm. “I feel like we’re confident going into our own building.”
Anaheim will look to rewrite a script that’s been all-too familiar over the past three postseason runs. The club has held 3-2 series leads in 2013 (first round, Detroit), 2014 (second round, LA) and 2015 (conference final, Chicago) only to see their opponents take Game 6, and, ultimately, Game 7 at Honda Center. But this is a new team and a new season, the players say, and what’s transpired in the past is but a fleeting memory.
“They’re totally different years,” said Andrew Cogliano. “I’m speaking for myself, and I’m not thinking of those years. This is a completely different season, a completely different team, and we’re approaching it like that.”
So they’ll lean on Frederik Andersen once more, hoping he’ll provide the stellar netminding that’s gotten them to this do-or-die Game 7. Andersen enters tonight’s game with a 3-1 record, 1.26 goals-against average and .955 save percentage since taking over the reins in Game 3.
It’s also likely they get a veteran presence on the blueline. Clayton Stoner took part in the morning skate alongside Simon Despres. Shea Theodore, who was in the first six games of the series, stayed out with the scratches. Though Stoner hasn’t played since the regular season finale on April 10 in Washington due to injury, he’s no stranger to Game 7s, having been a part of two in his career (2014 with Minnesota, 2015 with Anaheim).
“I think I can bring some experience and hard-nose playing,” he said this morning. “I enjoy the playoffs just as much as any other guy. My style of play really compliments the playoffs.”
The 31-year-old raised his level of play during last year’s run to the conference final, and today Bruce Boudreau noted his work against the Avalanche in Game 7 two years ago.
“When I watched the Minnesota-Colorado series when he was with Minnesota, he was great,” said Boudreau. “He’s missed games this year, and his first game back has been great. Always. I expect to have a great game from him.”
Like they’ve done all season, the Ducks will once again look to harness their energy – and that of the fans – in a positive manner. That means “playing between the whistles” (staying composed after the play has stopped) and not getting caught up in the moment and letting their emotions get the best of them.
“It’s going to be an emotional game no matter how you look at it, but we want to be in control. It’s a business-like approach,” said Boudreau. “You know they’re already going to be wound up, so you don’t want to wind them up so much that they can’t play. The only thing is that you don’t want to leave any regrets on the table. That’s the way we’re thinking.”
Stoner says he “gets goosebumps” just thinking about the atmosphere-to-be later tonight inside Honda Center. “You want to come out and have a good start,” he said. “The crowd is going to be behind you. It’s a fine line that’s separated by a couple of plays here and a couple of plays there. It’s not separated by huge plays. Instead, a bunch of small plays that turn out to be difference-makers.”