For additional insight into the Western Conference Final between the Anaheim Ducks and the Nashville Predators, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Davis Payne to break down the action. Payne will be checking in throughout the series.
Payne, 46, was coach of the St. Louis Blues from 2010-2011. The Blues were 67-55-15 under Payne.
He joined the Los Angeles Kings as an assistant on the staff of Darryl Sutter in the summer of 2012 and was with the Kings until this past April. He was on their coaching staff during their Stanley Cup championship run in 2014.
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Now that there have been four games played in the Western Conference Final between the Anaheim Ducks and Nashville Predators, there are almost no surprises between the teams, according to former St. Louis Blues coach Davis Payne.
The Ducks defeated the Predators 3-2 in overtime in Game 4 in Nashville, and the best-of-7 series is tied 2-2. Game 5 is in Anaheim on Saturday (7:15 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
"I think we can anticipate the finer details of the game that produce wins and losses are going to be the difference now," Payne said. "Both teams have figured each other out and they've figured out what wins against the other, the adjustments of how to take away the other team's strengths, how to make sure their game is in the right place.
"Now it comes down to execution, the extra little bit of effort, the extra little bounce. Who travels better and who recovers better. All that stuff is in play now."
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Payne thought Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler, who played a team-high 28:10 and set up their first goal, was a dominant player in Game 4. It was the most comfortable Fowler has looked since returning from his knee injury, sustained late in the regular season.
The return of Ducks defenseman Kevin Bieksa also was something of an X factor. Bieksa had been out since sustaining a knee injury April 26, the first game of the second round against the Edmonton Oilers.
"We've always known [Bieksa] to have a physical effect for their hockey team, to have an emotional effect on their hockey team," Payne said. "Anaheim had a clear purpose in denying Nashville the ability to get to the net. We call them box outs.
"It was very difficult for the Nashville guys to get to the net. That is probably one of the things Kevin Bieksa does best. Get that game into the trenches and try to beat them off of walls and to the net. He's very good at that. He makes it a hard, miserable place to go and as a result, not only was [Ducks goaltender] John Gibson good, he didn't have to deal with what he dealt with in Game 3."
Payne also referenced something he noted in Game 2 from the Ducks. It was the second thing he wrote down from the start of the game, and it surfaced again in overtime in Game 4 when Ducks forward Corey Perry scored.
"I think Anaheim has a game plan to put that puck to the net from that angle on [Predators goaltender] Pekka Rinne, expecting rebounds, commotion, second-chance opportunities," Payne said. "Perry scored a goal off an angle off the power play the game before.
"Putting that puck to his feet and forcing him to deal with those loose pucks I believe is part of their game plan. They didn't just do it [Thursday}. They did it two games ago. They were putting the puck to the net, off an angle, whether it was from the rush or in the offensive zone.
"They're putting that pressure to Rinne, it forces the defenders to have to turn around and find coverage, find pucks, and it puts a lot of pressure on the other team."
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