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Four Things: Preds and Ducks in Conference Final

Can the JOFA Line Thrive Against Ryan Kesler? Who Wins the Special Teams Battle?

by Thomas Willis @TomAWillis / Digital Manager & Producer

Here are four things that will define the Predators and Ducks Western Conference Final matchup.

Kesler vs. JOFA:

The Predators first line has a good idea of what awaits them in the first two games in Anaheim.

Ryan Kesler, one of the best shutdown centers in the game, along with Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg are likely to be tasked with eliminating the threat of the Predators Ryan Johansen line.

"He's good at what he does, no doubt," Johansen said of the 32-year-old Kesler. "They're all fast players. I'm not sure if he's going to be with Cogliano and Silfverberg or whoever else is up there, but they're a fast, speedy line that tests you in all areas. Like any team or any matchup during this time of year, you have to have your best to be successful. No different playing those guys."

Kesler is also known for trying to throw the opposition off with the more-than-occasional face wash or stick jab. The JOFA trio will also have to guard against getting baited into taking foolish penalties.

"It's really important, you have to make sure you don't forget any pieces of equipment," Johansen said with a smile. "You have to focus on the task at hand. That's a big part of his game, you can't let that get you off your game."

Physical or Fast? In the days leading up to the Western Conference Final and with the Preds awaiting the Oilers and Anaheim Ducks Game Seven to see who they would matchup against, Mattias Ekholm was asked who he'd rather his team face.

"Edmonton is a little more speed and skill and Anaheim is maybe a little more grit, heavy players, heavy forwards and play that kind of style," Ekholm said. "But with the two series we've played so far, I think Chicago was the speedy one and St. Louis was the heavy one, and I think we managed both really well. I think we're up for any challenge."

Following the Ducks 2-1 win in Game Seven, the Preds will be headed back into a heavy, physical series like the one they just emerged from with the Blues. That means a big hitting, grinding and taxing series.

Nashville used a dump-and-chase offense to push back the beefy Blues and then a counter-strike offense when appropriate. It's likely similar personnel and a related mindset will be used in the conference final to try and achieve those same results.

"I think our team is able to adjust to the type of opponent that we're playing," Nashville bench boss Peter Laviolette said. "Inside the Central Division, there's challenges with that and the game that you need to play in order to try to be successful. Our team has done a pretty good job of recognizing the game that we need to play and trying to execute that game."

Resiliency:

The Ducks have already come back from two three-goal deficits in the playoffs, including erasing a 3-0 Edmonton Oilers' lead in the final four minutes of regulation in Game Five.

Anaheim also showed a different type of resiliency when they took their Game Seven matchup with the Oilers on Wednesday night. The Ducks had fallen in four consecutive Game Sevens previously.

Even when Edmonton scored in the opening minutes of Game Seven - the fifth-straight year the Ducks had given up the first goal in a winner-take-all contest - the Ducks battled back, rallying to take their first lead in five years in a Game Seven with Nick Ritchie's third-period goal.

"Regardless of where they go in their lineup there's enough skill in there," Laviolette said of how the Ducks structure their top-six forwards. "[Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf] have been together, they've been apart. It's a talented group, they're veterans players, they've been there for a while. That's the core of that group you're talking about there. Either way, it'll present challenges."

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Special Teams:

"I think speciality teams can always factor into a game, into a series, into a momentum shift," Laviolette said.

"We're going to have to do our best to maintain discipline. I think our guys have done a pretty good job of that. If we do get the opportunities, whether it's power play or penalty kill, we're going to have to be good at that. That's one of those things that can swing a game one way or the other."

How do the Preds and Ducks special teams numbers stack up going into the series?

Nashville holds a decided edge for now. The Predators power play is converting at a 20 percent rate (5-of-25). The Ducks are 5-of-36 with the man advantage (13.9 percent).

On the penalty kill, the Preds are 21-of-24 for a 87.5 percent success rate, while the Ducks are 29-of-42 for 69 percent.

The 5-on-5 numbers are worth a look as well, where the Preds are receiving 2.8 goals-for per game and have allowed an NHL-best 1.4 goals-against per game. The Ducks are scoring at an impressive 3.18 goals per game, but are giving up an even 3.0 goals-against per contest.

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