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Instant Analysis: Predators Take on Ducks in First Round

by Thomas Willis & Brooks Bratten / Nashville Predators

On the final day of the regular season, the Nashville Predators learned their First Round opponent in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. By virtue of winning the Pacific Division, the Anaheim Ducks will take on the Preds in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

Date Time (CT)
Location TV Info
Tickets
Friday, April 15 9:30 pm Honda Center FS-TN; NBCSN GAME 1
Sunday, April 17 9:30 pm Honda Center FS-TN; NBCSN GAME 2
Tuesday, April 19 8:30 pm Bridgestone Arena FS-TN; USA GAME 3
Thursday, April 21 7:00 pm Bridgestone Arena FS-TN; CNBC GAME 4
Saturday, April 23 TBD Honda Center FS-TN GAME 5
Monday, April 25 TBD Bridgestone Arena FS-TN GAME 6
Wednesday, April 27 TBD Honda Center FS-TN GAME 7

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Below, take a look at the Preds and Ducks season series, important matchup points and pertinent stats.


Season Series:

Nashville regular season record versus Anaheim: 2-1-0

Scoring Leaders:

Nashville: Goals: Shea Weber (2)

Assists: Mike Ribeiro (3)

Points: Mike Ribeiro (3)

Anaheim: Goals: Rickard Rakell (2)

Assists: Rickard Rakell, Sami Vatanen (2)

Points: Rickard Rakell (3)

October 22, 2015, at Bridgestone Arena: Predators 5, Ducks 1

The quirky scheduling of the Predators and Ducks regular-season slate began with the teams’ first of three meetings in the season’s opening six weeks (with all three games being played in a one-month span). The Predators used a three-goal second period to jump out to a 4-0 lead early in the third period prior to closing out a 5-1 triumph. The dominant victory kept Nashville perfect at Bridgestone Arena, with Ryan Ellis, Mike Ribeiro, Mattias Ekholm and Colin Wilson also notching their first goals of the season in the contest. Pekka Rinne made 27 saves for his fifth win of the season; Anton Khudobin recorded 24 stops on 29 shots.

“I thought that was probably our best game of the year, and we needed it tonight," blueliner Ryan Ellis said following his three-point performance. “[Anaheim] is a team we expect to be there down the stretch. They're good every year. They've hit a bit of a road bump to start, but we knew they'd be hungry, desperate. We had to have the same mentality of desperation. I think we had it tonight, and that was one of our better games. It was good to see."

November 1, 2015, at Honda Center: Ducks 4, Predators 2

Anaheim ended a five-game losing streak, after an unsuccessful tour through the Central Division, by racing out to a three-goal, first-period advantage. Sami Vatanen and Andrew Cogliano beat Carter Hutton twice in a 12-second span to put the home team up 3-0. Playing their second game in as many nights, the Predators closed the gap to 4-2 with two goals in the middle frame, but weren’t able to come any closer as Frederik Andersen made 40 saves for his first victory of the campaign (was 0-5-2 entering the contest).

"Our guys played hard," Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "I've told the guys that I've been in games where the first 10 minutes you're down 3-0 because you forgot to come out of the locker room. That wasn't the case tonight. Our guys played hard from start to finish, and their goaltender played well. They were opportunistic, they came out hungry, and I thought our guys played a hard game for 60 minutes."

November 17, 2015, at Bridgestone Arena: Predators 3, Ducks 2

Netminder Pekka Rinne was the star in the Predators second win of the season over Anaheim in mid-November. The Finn made 38 saves to make goals from Shea Weber, James Neal and a deflection from Miikka Salomaki stand up as the game winner. The triumph improved the Preds to 7-1-2 at Bridgestone Arena and 11-3-3 overall.

“Tonight we found a way to win behind our goaltender,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “We battled, we blocked shots, we fought, we competed, we hit; it wasn’t a typical game for us, but we still found a way to win.

“[Rinne] was rock solid tonight and gave us an opportunity to win a game. He was sharp, he saw a lot of pucks, he got down in the crease and tied up a lot of rebounds and he was really good.”

Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen was pulled in the second period after giving up three goals on 10 shots, including a Neal wrister from outside the blue line that beat Andersen five-hole.

Analysis:

The Predators and Ducks playoff series will likely come down to which side has more success in four key matchup points:

NHL’s Hottest Teams: Starting on Feb. 12 through the end of the regular season (excluding Anaheim’s makeup game on April 10), the Ducks and Predators finished with the second and third-best records in the NHL over that span. Anaheim piled up 41 points (19-6-3) during their 28 games in the eight-week time frame, while Nashville earned 38 points (16-6-6).

With two of the NHL’s three hottest teams colliding in the first round, only one of them will reach the Western Conference Semifinals. The Ducks are humming after a woeful start and saved their season with an 11-game winning streak from Feb. 13 to March 5. Similarly, a franchise-record, 14-game point streak from Feb. 12 to March 12 helped turnaround the Predators season and put them in a position to win the West’s first Wild Card.

Considering how much both teams are rolling going into Game One, monitoring how they respond to adversity - and rare losses as of late - will be interesting to watch early in the series.

Odd Season Series: The winner of the regular-season series between two NHL teams goes on to win the teams’ playoff series the majority of the time, but Nashville’s and Anaheim’s three-game set in 2015-16 has to be accompanied with a pretty large asterisk. The Predators and Ducks faced off all three times during the campaign’s opening six weeks, a span where the Ducks flirted with 30th place in the League.

Both rosters, especially the Ducks’, experienced a large amount of turnover since they last met, with Anaheim acquiring Jamie McGinn, Ryan Garbutt and David Perron (among others) since Nov. 17. The Predators pulled off one of the largest trades in franchise history on Jan. 6, acquiring first-line center Ryan Johansen for defenseman Seth Jones.

42 GP: 22-13-7 with Johansen in the lineup (T-9th most points in NHL)

40 GP: 19-14-7 without Johansen (T-12th most points in NHL)

A feeling-out period is to be expected when these two “new” teams collide in Game One.

Special Teams: Time on the power play is often magnified even more so in the postseason, and if the Preds are to win the special teams battles in the series, they’ll have to find a way to not only beat the No. 1 penalty kill in the League, but also shutdown the top-ranked power play.

Anaheim sits first in the NHL in both categories, with their power play clicking at a 23.1 percent conversion rate. Conversely, the Ducks kill off 87.2 percent of the chances they give up on the man advantage.

Those numbers might be daunting, but the Preds aren’t half bad themselves when it comes to special teams. Nashville finished the season ranked 10th in the NHL with the man advantage at 19.7 percent, to go along with an 81.2 percent kill rate, 16th in the League.

Preds Captain Shea Weber ranked first among defensemen and fifth overall in the NHL with 14 power-play goals this season, while finishing with 26 power-play points in total. Anaheim’s ability - or inability - to deny a player like Weber on the man advantage could play a deciding role in the series.

Rinne vs. Gibson, Andersen: Two 2016 NHL All-Stars are likely to start between the pipes in Game One between the Ducks and Preds when Pekka Rinne faces off against John Gibson. The 22-year-old Ducks goaltender has taken the starting reins for Anaheim in part because of his good play and in part by default. Frederik Andersen and Gibson both had rocky patches during the 2015-16 season with Gibson receiving the All-Star nod in January and the starter’s role in March when Andersen was sidelined with an injury. Gibson is unproven in the postseason, making only four career postseason starts in 2014, while Andersen led the Ducks to within a game of the Stanley Cup Final last season (posting an 11-5-1 record, .913 save percentage and 2.34 goals-against average). If there’s an area the Pacific Division champs appear shaky at, it’s goaltending, and how Gibson or Andersen compare to Rinne’s play will likely be instrumental in determining the series winner.

The Predators’ main man between the pipes ends this regular season on a high note after struggling during the first half of the campaign. Beginning in early February, Pekka Rinne started a month-long stretch where his on-ice statistics paced the League. Not coincidentally, the Predators franchise-record, 14-game point streak accompanied the Finn’s dominant play.

Rinne has delivered in the postseason before, posting a string of stellar games in the 2011 Western Conference Semifinal series against the Vancouver Canucks, for example, but at times, he’s also struggled to hit his regular-season goals-against (2.37) and save percentage (.917) averages in the playoffs. Nashville will almost certainly need Rinne to replicate his stretch of play from February of this year if they hope to advance to the Second Round.

Moment of the series: Mike Fisher knocks out Kevin Bieksa’s tooth during a scrap in the Predators 3-2 win on Nov. 17.

Game of the series: The Predators fourth line leads Nashville to a 5-1 win over Anaheim on Oct. 22 behind a goal for Eric Nystrom and an assist for Austin Watson.

X-Factors: Ryan Johansen (Nashville); Goaltending (Anaheim)

Nashville’s decision to flip defenseman Seth Jones for playmaker Ryan Johansen on Jan. 6, 2016, gave the franchise its first, true No. 1 center in the Predators 18-year history, according to General Manager David Poile. Johansen’s addition to the lineup not only shifts Mike Ribeiro and Mike Fisher to the better suited roles on the second and third lines, but the 23-year-old’s passing touch also has helped ignite James Neal’s offensive production (including 10 goals in the month of March - a career high).

As previously mentioned, Anaheim has one 2016 All-Star between the pipes in John Gibson, despite the goaltender not logging any minutes versus Nashville in 2015-16. Frederik Andersen was the Ducks workhorse in net during the early portions of the season, but missed most of the playoff push with a concussion. If Gibson looks shaky early on the Preds and Ducks series, will Head Coach Bruce Boudreau be tempted to make the switch back to Andersen?

History: The Predators and Ducks last met in the postseason in 2011. The First Round series was won by Nashville in six games, the franchise’s first-ever playoff series victory.

Four players, Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber, Colin Wilson and Mike Fisher, who played in the 2011 series are currently on the Predators roster. Three Ducks, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Cam Fowler, logged time in the 2011 series and are still employed by Anaheim.

The Predators finished with a 2-1-0 record versus the Ducks in 2015-16, a season after being swept by Anaheim (0-2-1). Over the past four seasons, Nashville has posted a 3-6-3 record against Anaheim.

This season, Nashville posted a 13-3-5 record versus the Pacific Division.

Games Three, Four and Six* (*if necessary) will be played at Bridgestone Arena. Buy Tickets


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