By Kyle Shohara
With just 12 games remaining in the regular season for the Ducks and Nashville Predators, tonight figures to be a game with the look and feel of the postseason. It’s also a battle of the big boys, as the Ducks and Preds co-lead the Western Conference and sit in a four-way tie for the top spot in the NHL with 93 points along with the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens.
Their records are identical – both clubs enter tonight’s action with a 43-20-7 mark overall, though Nashville holds the tiebreaker with 37 ROW (regulation plus overtime wins) to Anaheim’s 35. Both clubs are stout at home, as the Ducks enter the game with a 22-10-3 mark at Honda Center, while Nashville co-leads the league in home wins with Tampa Bay (26-7-1). And apparently, both teams win together, and lose together. The Predators were mired in a horrendous slump, losers of six in a row from Feb. 26-March 7 before earning a 2-1 OT victory against the struggling Arizona Coyotes on March 9. The Preds come in with a 3-7-0 mark over their past 10 games (they beat LA last night, 2-1), while the Ducks recently snapped a three-game losing streak with a 2-1 victory at Minnesota on Friday.
Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau gave several reasons why Nashville is fighting for the Presidents' Trophy. “Speed and tenacity,” he said. “Their defense is probably as mobile and as good as any in the league. They’ve always had a great goaltender in net.” With balanced scoring, a deep blueline led by three-time Norris Trophy finalist Shea Weber, and solid goaltending from Pekka Rinne, the Predators are poised to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011-12.
“They always play hard against us,” said defenseman Francois Beauchemin, who established a career high for goals in a season (9) in Friday’s win. “It’s going to be a physical matchup, and I expect another one-goal game.”
It’s the type of game the Ducks will have to play as they gear up for the postseason. “We’ve got to be ready to play in the playoffs, so we have to play that same style night in, night out,” said Matt Beleskey. “Tonight will be the same way.”
“We can’t change,” said Boudreau. “We know we’re getting ready for playoffs. We know there are 12 games left. We have to start getting things ready. New guys are still being implemented almost on a daily basis, but we’re trying to alleviate that. Sometimes guys get hurt, and you have to put other guys in.”
Anaheim and Nashville wrap up a three-game season series tonight at Honda Center. The Ducks have gone 7-1-0 vs. the Predators since the start of the 2012-13 season and own a 34-19-7 record overall since 1998-99. All-time at Honda Center, Anaheim is 21-6-3.
Although the Predators enter tonight’s action with a 12-4-2 mark against Pacific Division foes, the Ducks have won the first two meetings vs. Nashville this season. Anaheim earned a 4-3 shootout win on Jan. 4 at Honda Center and skated to a 5-2 victory on Feb. 5 at Bridgestone Arena. Ryan Getzlaf paces Anaheim skaters in career scoring against the Predators, collecting 36 points (10g/26a) in 31 games.