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New-look Ducks ready for Predators in Game 1

Teams have changed since they last played in mid-November

by Abbey Mastracco / Correspondent

ANAHEIM -- The Nashville Predators may have had the Anaheim Ducks' number during the regular season, but the Pacific Division champions insist that won't matter in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Ducks host Game 1 in their Western Conference First Round series on Friday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, FS-TN, PRIME).

The Predators won two of three games against the Ducks, outscoring them 10-7. But they haven't seen each other since Nashville's 3-2 win at Bridgestone Arena on Nov. 17, a loss during Anaheim's tumble down the standings in the Pacific Division.

The Ducks went from worst to first in the division by finishing with a League-best 34-10-5 record after the Christmas break. Midseason trades brought in useful forwards David Perron and Ryan Garbutt, and general manager Bob Murray landed more help by acquiring forward Jamie McGinn from the Buffalo Sabres before the NHL Trade Deadline. All three play a solid, two-way game and fit into coach Bruce Boudreau's system right away.

But more important to the turnaround was the renewed emphasis on a defensive system.

"I think that was our biggest problem at the beginning of the year, figuring out our identity," Anaheim center Ryan Kesler said. "It changes from year to year. This team in the past, they've always had high-scoring teams, and this year, we had to defend. It's not a fun game to play sometimes, especially when you're not scoring. It got us out of the rut that we got out of and that's how we've got to play going forward here."

Video: ANA@COL: Garbutt splits two defenders, goes top-shelf

It wasn't a hard sell. After losing 5-0 at the Tampa Bay Lightning four days after the loss at Nashville, the Ducks were desperate to start scoring goals. But too much focus on the offense led to defensive lapses. They needed to figure out a way to defend and get good scoring chances.

"Good offense starts with good defense," Anaheim forward Corey Perry said. "You start to do the little things and the big things come. I knew when we weren't scoring goals that we needed to work on all parts of our game, so you have to start somewhere. That's what we started with."

But the Ducks aren't the only team that has changed.

On Jan. 6, the Predators acquired center Ryan Johansen from the Columbus Blue Jackets in a trade for defenseman Seth Jones. Johansen had eight goals and 34 points in 42 games for Nashville, and the Predators went 17-9-6 after the All-Star break to clinch the first wild card in the West.

"I think from the last game, there's a lot of different guys in the lineup," Boudreau said. "They've altered the way they play as we've altered the way we play. They've had 62 games since we've played them; both teams, it's like seeing each other for the first time. It makes for some interesting situations out there."

Boudreau saw defense revitalize the Washington Capitals when he coached them, and he's seeing tangible results of defensive success in Anaheim. It might not be the most fun, exciting style of hockey, but the Ducks know losing isn't fun either.

"Most hockey players all over the world are really great guys and they'll do what it takes to win because winning is what they want to do," Boudreau said. "The personal glory, there's not nearly as much interest in that as there is in winning. I think this is the same case."

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