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Conference Final

Ducks vs. Predators playoff preview

Goaltending battle between Anaheim's John Gibson, Nashville's Pekka Rinne could decide Western Conference Final

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Director of Editorial

Anaheim Ducks (P1) vs. Nashville Predators (WC2)

Season series: Anaheim 2-1-0; Nashville 1-1-1

Last playoff meeting: 2016 Western Conference First Round; Predators won series 4-3

All-time playoff series: Predators lead 2-0

 

How they got here

The Anaheim Ducks won a Game 7 for the first time in six tries, defeating the Edmonton Oilers 2-1 on Wednesday in the Western Conference Second Round to advance to the Western Conference Final for the second time in three seasons. The Ducks lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 conference final after having a 3-2 series lead.

Anaheim also lost Game 7, at home, to Nashville in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

This postseason, the Ducks have been led by center Ryan Getzlaf, third in playoff scoring with 15 points (eight goals, seven assists), behind Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (18 points) and Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl (16 points).

The Predators are in the Western Conference Final for the first time. They eliminated the St. Louis Blues in six games in the second round after a four-game sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Nashville, the second wild card from the Western Conference, is the fourth bottom seed to make a conference final since 2006. The Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012; the Oilers lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final; and the Montreal Canadiens lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 Eastern Conference Final.

Predators goalie Pekka Rinne has a .951 save percentage, allowing 14 goals on 288 shots in 10 games. Defenseman Ryan Ellis (four goals, five assists) and center Ryan Johansen (two goals, seven assists) are tied for the Predators lead with nine points.

The best-of-7 series begins at Honda Center on Friday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Video: Previewing the series between the Ducks and Preds

 

5 storylines

Goalie showdown: Rinne and John Gibson of the Ducks each will have a big say in this series, but they enter the Western Conference Final with far different backstories. Rinne, 34, is the veteran in his ninth season as the Predators No. 1 goaltender and has 58 games of playoff experience. Gibson, 23, is in his fourth NHL season and has 17 games of playoff experience. Rinne began the postseason with back-to-back shutouts and has been consistently strong through the first two rounds; Gibson has been up and down. He made 23 saves in the series-clinching victory against the Oilers but was pulled from one game in each of the first two rounds. His .908 save percentage is the lowest among the four remaining goalies.

Match game: The Ducks will want to get checking center Ryan Kesler against the Predators' top line of Johansen, right wing Viktor Arvidsson and left wing Filip Forsberg. The Predators most likely will want to get their shutdown defense pair of P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm against Getzlaf, who has been driving the Ducks offense.

Down time: The Predators are the more rested team, having closed their second-round series Sunday. The Ducks will have less than 48 hours between the end of their series against Edmonton and Game 1. That is not good news for two important Ducks who have been injured. Veteran defenseman Kevin Bieksa (lower body) was close to returning in Game 7 against the Oilers. Forward Patrick Eaves (lower body) has missed the past four games and there is no date for his return. Defensemen Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen missed time during the first two rounds because of injury.

Defensive depth: Each team, when healthy, has an envious set of top-four defensemen. The Predators have Subban, Ekholm, Ellis and Roman Josi, who have combined for 27 points (nine goals, 18 assists) and a plus-20 rating in 10 playoff games. The Ducks counter with Fowler, Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm and Shea Theodore, who have 16 points (three goals, 13 assists) and a plus-7 rating.

Isn't that special?: Nashville has been shorthanded 24 times in 10 games but has allowed three power-play goals. Anaheim has been shorthanded 42 times in 11 games, second-most in the League, and has allowed 13 goals, six more than any team in the playoffs. On the power play, the Predators are 5-for-25 (20.0 percent); the Ducks are 5-for-36 (13.9 percent), the third-lowest in postseason.

Video: STL@NSH, Gm4: Ellis cleans up rebound for PPG

 

By the numbers

7: Games when Nashville has scored first this postseason; it has won six of those. Anaheim has scored first five times in 11 games, with four wins.

55.9: Percent of faceoffs won by the Ducks in the first two rounds, the second-highest success rate in the playoffs behind the Minnesota Wild (57.4 percent in five games). Anaheim will be tested by Nashville, which has won 52.7 percent of its faceoffs.

58: Hits by Predators forward Auston Watson, in 10 games, second-most in the League to Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (61). Defenseman Josh Manson leads the Ducks with 38 hits.

Video: Austin Watson on Nashville's playoff run

 

In the spotlight

Ducks: Nick Ritchie, forward -- Ritchie, 6-foot-2, 232 pounds, scored the game-winning goal in Game 7 against the Oilers. He scored it playing on the first line, moved there during the game to give that line more size and grit. He could remain there against the Predators. He has two goals in nine playoff games.

Predators: Mike Fisher, center -- Fisher, the Predators captain, does not have a point in 10 games but has been invaluable to Nashville. He leads the Predators at 1:54 per game on the penalty kill, and takes important faceoffs and wins the majority of them (99-for-179, 55.3 percent). His 27 hits are second on the Predators and his 13 blocked shots are the most among Nashville forwards.

Video: EDM@ANA, Gm7: Ritchie wires a wrister past Talbot

 

Keys to victory

Ducks: Protect Gibson. The Ducks have allowed 31.7 shots per game this postseason. They would like to see that come down significantly; Gibson has struggled at times during the first two rounds when facing a high volume of shots.

Predators: Get the lead. The Predators have shown an ability to hold the lead once they have it and would love to see the Ducks have to chase the game, similar to their approach in the first two rounds against the Blackhawks and Blues.

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