In a rematch of last year's Round One series, the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks will meet in the 2017 Western Conference Final.
The Predators closed out their Round Two series in six games by prevailing 3-1 on home ice over the St. Louis Blues. The Ducks won four of five, including a Game Seven at home, after dropping the first two games to the Edmonton Oilers to advance in their series.
For Nashville, reaching the conference final was historic - the franchise has never been this far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in their previous 19 years of existence.
"It's a big step for us - not only for us as players, but also as an organization," goaltender Pekka Rinne said. "It's something that we haven't done before. To see that third goal - that empty-netter - that's a great relief. It was a really tight game, and [the Blues] played hard. All series, I thought each game was really hard and tight - a lot of one goal games. To see Jarny put that in - that was a great feeling, and obviously a big relief."
The conference final is set to begin on Friday in Anaheim, with the first two games being played at Honda Center, before Games Three, Four and Six* (*if necessary) will be at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
For now, here are the cliff notes for this year's Western Conference Final:
Preds Record vs. Ducks in 2016-17 Regular Season: 1-1-1
The Predators fell to the Ducks in their most recent meeting, 4-3 in a shootout on March 7, after Anaheim rallied from an early two-goal deficit to tie the game and later win in the extra rounds of a shootout. The first two contests of the season series were both blowouts, with Nashville winning 5-0 on Nov. 12 in the only contest of the season series in Music City. Anaheim won 6-1 on Oct. 26 on home ice.
How They Got Here:
Nashville knocked off the top team in the West in the First Round when they swept the Chicago Blackhawks. Now they'll have to face the conference's No. 2 team in Round Three. The Preds followed their upset of the Hawks in Round One by taking Game One on the road in St. Louis and then claiming three wins on home ice to advance to the conference final.
Anaheim also swept their Round One series, taking out the Calgary Flames in four games. The Ducks took the first two games at home and then rallied from a three-goal deficit in Game Three to win 4-3 in overtime in Calgary. In Round Two, the Ducks dropped both games at Honda Center to open their series with the Edmonton Oilers. But in Game Three, the Ducks' offense connected repeatedly for a 6-3 win to get on the ledger. Anaheim later evened the series in Game Four with another road win. The series may have turned in Game Five when the Ducks came back from three goals down in the final four minutes of regulation to force overtime. In the second extra session, Corey Perry tallied the game-winner. After dropping Game Six by a whopping 7-1 margin in Edmonton, the Ducks found redemption in Game Seven with 2-1 triumph.
Barely a year ago, the Predators forced the first Game Seven in franchise history in their Round One series with the Ducks and took the series-deciding game, 2-1, at Honda Center.
The changes to both teams have been low in number but high in impact since that postseason meeting, with the Preds trading former captain Shea Weber for P.K. Subban in the summer and the Ducks replacing Head Coach Bruce Boudreau with Randy Carlyle (who previously won the Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007). The Ducks also acquired 30-goal-scorer Patrick Eaves, who is currently injured, at the Trade Deadline.
Carlyle had the Ducks rolling down the stretch, going 15-0-3 to close out the regular season, including a March 7 shootout win over the Preds. That momentum has rolled into the playoffs for Anaheim as well, with the Ducks going 8-3 in the postseason.
Similarly, the Predators are a blazing 8-2 in the playoffs and have been immaculate on home ice, going 5-0 at Bridgestone Arena. Nashville has won nine consecutive at home in the postseason, dating back to a 3-1 win over the Ducks in Game Six of their 2016 First Round series.
The Preds also won a 2011 First Round meeting between the two teams.