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Conference Final

Coach's analysis: Predators, Ducks defense outstanding in Game 5

Former Blues coach Davis Payne says defensemen played at top level

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / NHL.com Staff Writer

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.

 

[RELATED: Complete Ducks vs. Predators series coverage]

 

Game 5 of the Western Conference Final between the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks had the feel of a heavyweight match between two excellent defense corps, according to former St. Louis Blues coach Davis Payne.

Nashville's 3-1 win in Anaheim on Saturday gave the Predators a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series. Game 6 in Nashville is on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"I was thoroughly impressed with the 'D' on both sides," Payne said. "I thought that was probably as complete a game as you can play for two sets of defensemen. They were in on just about every offensive possession and opportunity and they did an extremely good job of denying top players opportunity and scoring chances.

"You look at the game-winning goal and it's an extended shift of hard play in corners and at net and [Mattias] Ekholm wins the battle and is able to make the play coming up ice. Eventually puck ends up at the net and ends up as the winning goal."

Video: Predators defeat Ducks in Game 5, go up 3-2 in WCF

It was scored by Predators rookie Pontus Aberg, who picked the right place and right time for his first NHL playoff goal.

The Ducks are going to have to find their own version of Pontus Aberg in Game 6, Payne said. Forwards Rickard Rakell, who led the Ducks with 33 goals in the regular season, and Patrick Eaves won't play in Game 6. Both have lower-body injuries.

"Anaheim's fourth line was able to get some things done because of who they're playing against," Payne said. "The [Ryan] Kesler line had some good offensive opportunities on the rush. Rakell not being in there and Eaves not being in there really kind of pulls away some of the offensive potency Anaheim carries.

"They are going to have to get that from somewhere. You look at the top guys to get that done. I think you're going to have to have some contributions from a guy like [Nick] Ritchie, guys who have chipped in along the way to get them to this point.

"Much like Nashville has done. The guys that stepped in found a way. There has to be an Aberg in Anaheim's lineup [Monday]."

The Predators managed to win Game 5 without centers Ryan Johansen and Mike Fisher. Johansen [thigh surgery] is out for the rest of the playoffs. Fisher has an undisclosed injury.

Video: J.P. Morosi on the Predators historical opportunity

"You saw [their loss] a little bit on their power play," Payne said. "You take a guy like Johansen out … he's a guy when the puck is on his stick, he takes charge, he takes control and is able to settle things down so they can execute the way they want.

"Other than that, I thought the centermen that stepped in there - [Colton] Sissons played big minutes and [Calle] Jarnkrok stepped up and played big minutes. Quite honestly, it became those two against [Ryan] Getzlaf and Kesler going forward. Getzlaf and Kesler have to recognize that's a matchup they still have to win."

Ducks goaltender Jonathan Bernier played the final two periods of Game 5 in relief of starter John Gibson, who sustained a lower-body injury. Gibson's status for Game 6 remains unclear.

Payne had the chance to observe Bernier with the Los Angeles Kings when they overlapped for a time. Bernier started his career with the Kings in 2007, was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2013 and was traded back to the Ducks last summer.

Payne remembered some of Bernier's previous results against the Predators.

"Jonathan Quick's numbers against Nashville, in Nashville, have never been great and that's the game Jonathan Bernier always got," Payne said.

"I think Jonathan [Bernier] is more than capable of putting the kind of game together that can get the job done. He makes big saves and he makes athletic saves and he makes effort saves, and that's what you're going to need this time of year.

"What he does -- if he's playing in Game 6 -- that could potentially present a problem for Nashville [is] he makes a high-level play with the puck. He can get out. He can stop pucks. He can make a higher-level play and potentially bypass forechecks and allow Anaheim to get up ice, as long as he doesn't get too aggressive.

"That is something, much like Nashville uses [goaltender Pekka] Rinne. [The Ducks] now have a little bit of an asset back there in a guy that can make some clean plays. And he did some of that [Saturday] night."

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