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Game Day: Preds vs. Ducks

by Thomas Willis / Nashville Predators

(43-20-7) Nashville Predators vs. Anaheim Ducks (43-20-7)
  7 P.M. | Honda Center
TV: FS-TN | Radio: 102.5 The Game

Not even 24 hours after defeating the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings by a 2-1 score, the Nashville Predators will return to the ice to face the team they share first place in the Western Conference with, the Anaheim Ducks.

The contest will be the Preds final game of a four-game road trip that’s seen them go 2-1-0 while facing the first three of a quartet of Pacific Division foes. On Saturday, Nashville completed a three-game season sweep of the Los Angeles Kings, thanks to a two-goal, third period rally. First, Craig Smith’s 22nd of the season tied the contest; then one minute and six seconds later, Viktor Stalberg’s shot off of Jake Muzzin and into the net proved to be the game-winner.

“That’s huge for our confidence, especially going through that stretch and against a good L.A. team that's desperate for points,” Stalberg said after Saturday’s victory. “That’s going to be a confidence boost for us, and hopefully we can carry that into [Sunday’s game].”

The victory was the 600th for the Predators franchise as a whole; the club recorded their inaugural win 16 years and five months prior versus the Carolina Hurricanes.

Veteran Matt Cullen, playing in his 1,205th game in the NHL on Saturday, collected an assist on Stalberg’s third period goal. The more than 1,200 contests for Cullen tied the Moorhead, Minnesota, native with long-time New York Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch and put him in the Top 100 in games played all-time in the NHL. Cullen, who was drafted by Anaheim and spent four seasons with the Ducks, has 21 points in 55 games this campaign, his second with the Predators.

Smith’s tally to put Nashville on the board Saturday night tied him for the team lead in goals with James Neal, who missed Saturday's contest due to an upper-body injury. Overall, the Preds are led on offense by Mike Ribeiro’s 54 points and 41 helpers.

Between the pipes, Pekka Rinne’s 37 wins rank second overall in NHL, while his .928 save percentage and 2.07 goals-against average are both in the Top 5 in the League. The Finnish netminder stopped 23 shots on Saturday for the 200th victory of his career. The 31-year-old All-Star has recorded exactly one-third of the Predators all-time wins. 

“I’ve played for some really good teams with really good teammates, and now it’s time to go toward 300,” Rinne said following the 2-1 victory over the Kings.

Leading the Pacific Division, the Ducks will attempt to complete a three-game series sweep of the Preds tonight. On Feb. 5, the Ducks claimed the series' only meeting in Music City by a 5-2 score in Rinne’s first game back after recovering from a sprained knee. A month before that contest, Anaheim faced Nashville the day after the Preds had beaten the Kings (for the first time this season), and emerged with a 4-3 shootout win.

Ryan Getzlaf leads the Ducks on offense with 22 goals and 41 assists (the same number of helpers as the Preds’ Ribeiro). Talented goal-scorer Corey Perry ranks second in points with 46, but first in goals with 28. Ryan Kesler (17g-27a), Sami Vatanen (12g-22a) and Jakob Silfverberg (11g-22a) round out the Top 5 point-getters for Anaheim.

The Ducks have seen some turnover in the crease this campaign, but the results, and wins, have been consistent. Frederik Andersen (30-10-5) still holds all of the top goaltending statistics for Anaheim, but it’s rookie John Gibson that’s gotten the bulk of the starts recently. The 21-year-old from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, holds a 10-6-0 record with a .919 save percentage and a 2.54 goals-against average.

Nashville has collected at least a point in nine of its last 14 games against Anaheim, dating back to Jan. 5, 2011, going 6-5-3 in those games. All-time, the Preds are 24-26-(2)-8 versus the Ducks.

The Predators are not expected to hold a morning skate in advance of this evening's contest versus the Ducks.
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