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Depth To Be Tested in Quarterfinals Series

by Jay Levin / Nashville Predators
Most series previews focus on the Anaheim/Nashville series as a match-up of offense versus defense --- the Preds ranked third in the NHL in goals against while the Ducks ranked 11th in goals scored. That may be a storyline to the series, but the x-factor is likely to be the battle of depth.

Anaheim’s top-end forwards have drawn a lot of publicity – and rightfully so, the Duck have four forwards with 70 or more points this season, including the league’s leading goal scorer Corey Perry. The Perry-Ryan Getzlaf-Bobby Ryan line might be the best line in the NHL. And as amazing as Perry has been the second half of the season, Teemu Selanne has been just as good over the season’s final month-plus. But beyond those four, the Ducks only have three other forwards with more than 20 points.

In contrast, the Preds leading scorers closed out the regular season with 50 points. But Nashville countered that with nine forward contributing at least 20 points – and an additional three with 18 or 19 points. The Preds have been at their best when they’ve been able to roll all four lines – during the team’s 11-3-1 string to close out the season the Mike Fisher-Patric Hornqvist-Sergei Kostitsyn line was an offensive force, while the Martin Erat-David Legwand-Joel Ward trio has provided consistent two-way play. And Nick Spaling and Jerred Smithson have been penalty kill standouts. But it was Blake Geoffrion’s hat trick and timely scoring that saved the team at Buffalo and the Matt Halischuk/Jordin Tootoo combo carried the team in last week’s win over Atlanta.

Defensively, the dynamic shifts; Nashville relies heavily on goaltender Pekka Rinne and its top defensive duo of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber. Rinne appeared in 64 games this season, starting 29 of the team’s final 30 games down the playoff stretch run. Suter and Weber both logged over 25 minutes a game … and both upped their work load down the final stretch run (Suter skated over 25 minutes in 15 of the last 22 games and Weber in 14 of those same 22 games). Only one other Preds defenseman on the playoff roster averaged more than 20 minutes a game – Kevin Klein at 20:47.

The Ducks have four defenseme who average over 20 minutes a night with none approaching 24 and half. Toni Lydman was a standout for the Ducks through the first half of the year, but faded some in the second half, while Lubomir Visnovsky stepped up his play over the stretch run. In net, Jonas Hiller carried the load for the Ducks through the first half, but stuggled with a bout of vertigo after the All-Star Break and was limited to just one game over the last month-plus. As a result Dan Ellis (44 games played this season) and Ray Emery (10 games played) – neither of which opened the season on Anaheim’s roster – enter the playoffs in a battle for the starting job. Ellis was acquired from Tampa Bay at the Trade Deadline, while Emery was unsigned until the Ducks added him in early February.

So while the offense vs. defense comparison will grab the headlines in series previews, Nashville’s star defensive players are likely to even out the star power Anaheim possesses up front making the battle between the Preds secondary scoring depth and the Ducks defensive depth to the key x-factor to the series.

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