Each Wednesday throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kevin Weekes will be offering his pluses and minuses for the teams competing in the game that intrigues him most that night. Weekes will also be assisting fans with three must-watch elements of the game.
Game 7. Two of the best words in the English language.
That's what we have Wednesday when the Nashville Predators visit the Anaheim Ducks. The final spot in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is up for grabs with the winner playing the San Jose Sharks, and being one step closer to the Stanley Cup.
The Predators won the first two games of the series on the road but then lost the next three before winning Game 6 on Monday. It will be the first Game 7 in their history.
The Ducks, meanwhile, are no strangers to Game 7s. They have been eliminated at home in each of the past three postseasons in a Game 7 and hope that trend ends. One team will move on, and the other will go home when the Predators visit the Ducks at Honda Center on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports, SN, FS-TN, FS-W).
Video: ANA@NSH, Gm6: Weber seals win with empty-netter
Here's my breakdown of the game:
Pluses: Nashville has the highest scoring defense in the NHL. Mattias Ekholm and Shea Weber each had goals in a 3-1 win in Game 6. Four of the Predators' 12 goals in the series have been scored by defenseman. Weber has four points, Ekholm has two goals, Roman Josi has three points, and Ryan Ellis has two assists. Their defense is very active and they can generate offense from all three zones.
Ryan Johansen has been a great addition for the Predators. He made a great play to set up the eventual game-winning goal by James Neal in the second period of Game 6. He made five shoulder checks on his way up the ice before hitting Neal for the goal. Johansen has helped the Predators spread out their lines because now they have him as the No. 1 center, Mike Ribeiro as the No. 2 and Mike Fisher as the No. 3. Now they can attack, which has helped take them to the next level this season.
Video: ANA@NSH, Gm6: Rinne stops Horcoff's slap shot
We can't forget about Pekka Rinne. He made 26 saves in Game 6 and had great rebound control and good timing. His reads were strong and he played a clean game. That is the Rinne we have seen in seasons past.
Minuses: A challenge for the Predators is sometimes they don't always play with the energy and speed that they have and that they need to play with under coach Peter Laviolette. For example, when they lost three straight games, they didn't play like themselves. The Predators had a 2-0 series lead but lost the next three, scoring a combined three goals, including one in two games at home, when they could have put a stranglehold on the series. They need to play up-tempo and with speed, and be aggressive offensively and defensively.
Another thing about the Predators is sometimes they lose their identity. Are they a team that should attack, even though they've always been a defense-first team?
Speaking of defense, they rely too heavily on their defensemen for scoring. Nashville got 55 goals from their defense during the regular season, which accounted for 24.6 percent of its team total. The players on the back end try to make plays and be offensive, but they need more from their forwards.
Pluses: After starting and losing the first two games of the series with goalie John Gibson, the Ducks turned to Frederik Andersen, who has won three of four. He's allowed five goals in the four games and gotten them back in the series. Including the regular season, Andersen is 20-2-2 in his past 24 decisions.
Video: NSH@ANA, Gm1: Cogliano finds Kesler for the lead
Ryan Kesler is back to the way he can play and the way the Ducks expect him to play. He's still not going to give you the high-end offense that others provide, but in many ways he's been what they hoped for since they acquired him. He's good for matchups, can score goals and is strong in the faceoff circle.
Anaheim's role players have been outstanding. Whether it's been Jamie McGinn, Chris Stewart or Nate Thompson, all of them are skilled and the Ducks have done a good job of assembling a roster of so many depth players who can make plays.
Minuses: Will the Ducks rewrite the script from Game 7? They have gone 0-7 in their past seven Game 6s and 7s, including losing Game 7 at home in each of the past three seasons. Last year, they were a win away from the Stanley Cup Final but couldn't close it out at home against the Chicago Blackhawks. Forward David Perron said this is a new Ducks team with several new players, but let's see if the result is different.
Sometimes it takes the Ducks a while to get into the game. They don't always start the game on time and lean on Andersen or Gibson too often. The Blackhawks are the same way, but they have had the pedigree and have shown they can overcome deficits in the regular season and playoffs. The Ducks wait and wait and wait. It's like they're a cat toying with a mouse, but they don't always end up catching their opponents when they've trailed early.
Video: ANA@NSH, Gm6: Rinne denies Perry in front
Corey Perry had 34 goals in the regular season but has none in six playoff games. That's inexcusable and the Ducks will be hard-pressed to win Game 7 if he doesn't score. Even with so much depth scoring, the Ducks will need contributions from Perry and Ryan Getzlaf.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Do the Ducks start on time? If not, they could be in trouble.
2. Do the Predators play with their speed and attack game? A fast start on the road will be important for them.
3. Who will be better, Andersen or Rinne? Each has shown flashes of brilliance in the series.