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Predators again off to good start with Game 1 OT win

Defeat Ducks to begin conference final after winning opener in first, second round

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

ANAHEIM -- The Nashville Predators are in the driver's seat once again.

They completed a hat trick of Game 1 victories in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs when James Neal scored 9:24 into overtime to give them a 3-2 win against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on Friday to begin the Western Conference Final.

 

[RELATED: Complete Ducks vs. Predators series coverage]

 

In the first round, the Predators went on to sweep the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks after their Game 1 win. In the second round, Nashville won three of the next five after its Game 1 victory to eliminate the St. Louis Blues in six games.

"You get some momentum right away, for sure," defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. "It's a nice feeling for everyone in here, for sure. And tomorrow is going to be a lot easier. You get a smile on your face, and it's really a good feeling.

"But we know we haven't done nothing yet. We have to stay on for Game 2, and we know now we'll have that home-ice advantage again. We're really comfortable on home ice and on the road, and it's a good feeling to get the first one."

Video: NSH@ANA, Gm1: Neal nets Subban's feed for OT win

Game 2 is here Sunday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports).

The Predators reached the postseason as the second wild card from the Western Conference, meaning they would start any and all of their series on the road.

Neal said he and his teammates haven't worried about their poor seeding status.

"I don't think we really have a choice," Neal said. "We know what type of team we have in our dressing room. We've built a team to try to win a Stanley Cup and we're continuing to get better in every series and every game, and Game 1 is a huge opportunity to take home-ice advantage back. That's what we're trying to do."

Predators left wing Filip Forsberg, who scored his fourth goal of the playoffs to tie the game 1-1 in the first period, said the victory against the Ducks was their best start in the three series.

"To be honest with you, the first games in the other series haven't been our best, but we found a way to win," Forsberg said. "That's what the playoffs are all about -- you have to find a way to win. And it's going to go up and down.

"But yeah … the way we played, it was better than the other Game 1s."

Nashville center Ryan Johansen, who had two assists in 22:32 of ice time, said rest might have been a factor in Game 1 against Anaheim. The Predators eliminated the Blues on Sunday, and the Ducks advanced past the Edmonton Oilers in Game 7 on Wednesday.

"That'll take a toll on you," Johansen said. "We're just focused on our game and how we need to play. We'll keep finding ways to get that done, which is huge. We'll take the win."

Video: NSH@ANA, Gm1: Neal, Rinne discuss series-opening win

Johansen agreed with Forsberg that Nashville was better Friday than in Game 1 against Chicago and St. Louis.

"Teams were different, but I liked our start in particular tonight," he said. "For the first 40 minutes, we were pretty solid.

"I think in the (two) previous (series openers), for whatever reason, we weren't as sharp, but tonight we had a good start."

Forsberg said the Predators' confidence hasn't soared because of any of their Game 1 victories.

"I don't think we can believe any more, to be honest with you," he said. "We know what we're capable of here."

Knowing the magnitude of the assignment in each series has crystalized the Predators' focus, coach Peter Laviolette said.

"I think our opponents have probably made us work to try to bring out the best of ourselves," Laviolette said. "You play the Chicago Blackhawks, you know you have to play well. If you don't, you won't find success.

"It's [known] that St. Louis was the best team in the League since Feb. 1, had the most points. If you don't bring out your best, it's the same thing.

"And Anaheim had three regulation losses in their last 25 games. This is a team that's played well down the stretch. I think you realize you have to do the right things in order to find success."

Video: NSH@ANA, Gm1: Laviolette on Predators' fast start

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