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Five keys for Predators vs. Ducks, Game 4

Andersen's response, Smith's availability among key factors in Anaheim's attempt to even series

by Robby Stanley / Correspondent

NASHVILLE -- The Anaheim Ducks and Nashville Predators play Game 4 of the Western Conference First Round at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, PRIME, FS-TN, NHLN, FX-CA, TVA Sports 3). The Predators lead the best-of-7 series 2-1. 

Here are five keys for Game 4:

1. Predators power play: The Ducks have made a habit of visiting the penalty box so far in this series, but the Predators haven't been able to make them pay for it on a consistent basis. Nashville was 0-for-5 on the power play in Game 3 and is 1-for-13 in the series. 

If the Ducks are going to continue to take penalties, the Predators have to make them pay. The Ducks were the NHL's best penalty-killing team during the regular season (87.2 percent) so the Predators are presented with a big challenge in that area. 

"We talk about it," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "We did mark it as something we needed to make sure we were on the good side of things here. Their penalty kill has been very good. The penalty kill for them I think was a reflection of their 5-on-5 game last game, which was very good. 

"We're still getting some looks on the power play. There are opportunities for us. We've just got to finish in those situations when we get the looks. I think our penalty kill has been good, but certainly special teams, there's a good chance it could factor into the game tonight." 

2. Andersen's response: Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen made his series debut in Game 3 and won 3-0 for his second career postseason shutout. 

"It says he's a good goalie, and he has been all year," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. "There's been very little pockets that he's had bad stretches in, but that's over the whole tenure of how long he's been here. I mean again you talk about calming influences, he was pretty calm in the net with his movement and everything else, and I think that helped too." 

Andersen is going to have to respond with another good game in Game 4 if the Ducks want to even the series heading back home for Game 5. The Predators weren't able to generate many high quality chances offensively in Game 3. The Ducks expect a better effort from the Predators in Game 4.

Video: ANA@NSH, Gm3: Andersen takes a puck off the mask

3. Craig Smith's availability: It is unclear whether Predators forward Craig Smith will play in Game 4. Smith left Game 3 in the first period with a lower-body injury and did not return. He is listed as day-to-day and missed practice Wednesday. 

Predators forward Colin Wilson took Smith's place on the second line alongside center Mike Ribeiro and left wing Filip Forsberg in practice Wednesday and said he's comfortable playing in a top-six role again if Smith isn't able to play.

"It's exciting," Wilson said. "I've been there before in my career, and it'll be fun to play with those guys if that's who I end up playing with [Thursday]." 

Smith has a goal and an assist in the series, and was a big part of Nashville's secondary scoring in the second half of the regular season. 

4. Ducks playing to their identity: The Ducks were the best defensive team in the League during the regular season, surrendering the fewest number of goals (188). They got back to playing a defense first style of hockey in Game 3. 

"I think we just got back to playing our game," Ducks forward Jakob Silfverberg said. "We played with structure. We played five tight. We didn't give them too many good looks, and obviously [Andersen] stepped up and had a really good game as well. We just got back to playing Ducks hockey, and when we do that we're tough to beat. That's what it's going to take tonight again." 

Anaheim has plenty of offensive talent on its roster but has been most successful this season when the defense is the focal point. Anaheim's defensive play could be the top determining factor in the outcome of Game 4.

The Ducks' forwards did an excellent job of back-checking in Game 3. They were able to create turnovers in the neutral zone and hindered the Predators' ability to have clean entries into the offensive zone. The Ducks will try to clog up the neutral zone again in Game 4 and make it difficult for the Predators to enter the offensive zone with speed.

5. Limiting defensive zone turnovers: The Predators were victimized by turnovers in their own zone in Game 3 that ended up costing them. 

Predators defenseman Anthony Bitetto committed a defensive zone turnover that led to the first goal of the game by the Ducks. They will have to do a better job of puck management in the defensive zone in Game 4. 

The Ducks and Predators are each most effective when they establish a tenacious forecheck early in the game and create turnovers. The defensemen will have to be smart with the puck and make good breakout passes to avoid costly turnovers that lead to odd-man chances the other way.

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