ANAHEIM -- Ryan Ellis might be considered undersized, but his beard most definitely is not.
The red facial hair on the 5-foot-10 Nashville Predators defenseman is already three rounds deeper into the playoffs than the playoffs themselves. But it wouldn't be postseason hockey without outsized beards and unsung players making big plays.
On Friday, Ellis made two key plays, keeping a puck out of the Nashville net and assisting on a goal in a 3-2 win against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round. Game 2 is Sunday at Honda Center (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports 2, MSG+, FS-F).
"He's probably a guy that's maybe a little bit underrated in the League, but certainly not in our locker room," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said after practice Saturday. "Our guys know what he's capable of. He had a big game last night and made big plays defensively and big plays offensively."
Laviolette was especially impressed with Ellis' instinctive dive into the net to save a goal by Jamie McGinn in the second period and keep the game tied 2-2. It's a move Laviolette said is characteristic of the way Ellis plays.
Video: NSH@ANA, Gm1: Ellis denies potential go-ahead goal
"He's a very heads-up player," Laviolette said. "Even though he did get into that net in a peculiar way to keep that goal out, just to have the wherewithal to smother [the puck] and push it back a little bit shows he's a smart kid."
Forward Ryan Johansen realized how smart Ellis is long before coming to Nashville; they played together in the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship. When Johansen joined the Predators in a trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets in January, he grew more impressed.
"He's one of those guys that doesn't get enough credit," Johansen said. "One of the first things I noticed when I first came to this team is just how smart of a player he is and his hockey sense. How he plays within our team structure, he plays it to a T. He's probably the best on our team at that."
Goalie Pekka Rinne said Ellis has earned the respect of his teammates with his work ethic and by doing the little things. He doesn't take shifts off and he's not afraid to get physical.
"It's just doing your job," Ellis said. "Whether it be blocked shots or scoring goals, everyone is trying to do the same thing and everyone has the same end goal."
Ellis' actions speak louder than numbers on a score sheet. Maybe even louder than that big, red beard.
"The way he plays, he sets an example and he leads by that," Rinne said. "He's been a great player for us for a couple years now and he's such a talent. He's proved that smaller guys can play in this league as a defenseman. He's doing a great job for us."