By Kyle Shohara
The list was reeled off like a starting lineup. The amount of injured players – or players that were in need of a few well-deserved days off – could almost dress two full lines. Ducks Executive Vice President and General Manager Bob Murray gave an update on nine players who are recovering from injuries or needed time to rest bumps and bruises, and though the list is long in number, the outlook is promising.
Perhaps the best news of the day centered around David Perron and Rickard Rakell, who, in Murray’s words, are “very” and “definitely” probable in Anaheim’s First Round series against the Nashville Predators, which is set to begin on Friday at Honda Center. Perron separated his right shoulder on March 20, but has been skating and shooting. Murray says there’s a chance the 27-year-old left wing could be available from the beginning of the series on. Rakell, he says, still has “a couple of hurdles” before he returns to the lineup. Murray says Rakell ruptured his appendix, but is expected to get his last IV today. Rakell missed the final seven games of the regular season to recover from his appendectomy, but has been skating.
Sami Vatanen was sick twice in the past three weeks, but is available for the series. Fellow blueliner Kevin Bieksa’s status is “probable” for the series, but the rugged blueliner is skating and Murray says “you’ll see him” at some point against the Preds.
Though Brandon Pirri has not yet resumed skating, he rode the bike yesterday and is “definitely available at some point in this series,” Murray says. Pirri suffered an upper-body injury after getting checked by Vancouver Canucks defenseman Nikita Tryamkin on April 1. Clayton Stoner is still being evaluated for an injury that required one doctor yesterday, and another today. Korbinian Holzer, meanwhile, is battling a chronic lower-body issue, but Murray says the depth defenseman is probable for the series.
“You’re always worried, but that’s part of what this is,” Murray says, on the injury front, “but this is playoff hockey. That’s why you try to make your team as deep as possible.”
Goaltender John Gibson and Ryan Kesler were sent home following the game in Colorado on April 9, but both are ready to play.
Ducks fan can breathe a sigh of relief regarding the team’s Selke-worthy shutdown center, who was simply sent home following the game in Colorado for rest. “He didn’t like it,” Murray said, when he informed Kesler he was going home. “He just needs some time. We felt, with the schedule, we might get some time, and luckily we did. It’s nothing major there. You watch how he plays. He’s just banged up. I just sent him home. No issues. He’ll be ready to go. He’s a warrior.”
That’s great news for the Ducks, who will have two full days of rest before resuming practice tomorrow.
The Ducks and Predators met in the 2011 Western Conference Quarterfinals in a seesaw battle that eventually saw Nashville upend Anaheim in six games. Holdovers from that series still remain on both sides. Then-rookie defenseman Cam Fowler is now a veteran of over 400 NHL regular season games, while vets Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have also evolved over those six years. Mike Fisher, Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber and Colin Wilson remain for the Preds. Remember, it was Weber who tied the game late in Game 5, which forced overtime, and Jerred Smithson’s game-winner forced a Game 6 that the Predators won, 4-2.
Under head coach Peter Laviolette, the Predators qualified for the playoffs by claiming the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference. They finished the season with a 41-27-14 record and 96 points, but only earned them fourth place in a heavyweight Central Division this season.
Nashville is blessed with skill on all four forward lines, a tremendous d-core, and a proven veteran netminder who has the ability to steal games (and series).
“It’s a big challenge because they have a lot of moving parts,” said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. “Their defense, even after getting rid of [Seth] Jones, is still one of the most formidable offensive defenses in the league. They have some really good skill up front. They play hard. They weren’t far behind third place in a tough Central Division where they played all year. We have our hands full.”
Youngsters Filip Forsberg and blockbuster acquisition Ryan Johansen fill out Nashville's offensive firepower up front. Forsberg, 21, led the Preds in scoring and set career highs in goals (33) and points (64) this season, while Johansen tallied eight goals, 26 assists and 34 points in 42 games with the Predators after being dealt from the Columbus Blue Jackets (for the aforementioned Jones) on Jan. 6. There is also James Neal, whose 31 goals this season were his most since potting 40 for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2011-12.
The numbers may seem intimidating, but Getzlaf emphasizes the need for his team to focus on themselves.
“You don’t want to focus too much on the opposition when it comes to the playoffs,” said Getzlaf. “You want to know little knacks and things like that. For the most part, we’re going to prepare our group to play our game, and take it as it comes. We’re looking for a good battle.”