The story may sound similar to Preds fans – team goes on the road against a high powered offense and gets a split of the opening games in the series, winning Game 1 behind a great goaltending performance before having the opponent offense wake up in Game 2 to tie the series – but this year’s playoff series is much different than last year.
The feeling to this series is different. The attitude in the locker room is different. The temperament of the players and coaches is different. The atmosphere in the opponent building and among the opponent fan base is different. There’s a sense among this team that they can win any game against any opponent in any building.
Coach Trotz said as much, “Even when it was 4-1 (in Game 2), there wasn’t panic; we felt like we were going to come back. And that’s something that tells me that there’s a really good sense of pride in our team, a sense that we’re not overwhelmed by the Ducks.”
After the Game 1 road win in Chicago there was a sense of jubilation -- the Preds had finally won a road playoff game (the first in franchise history) and the players were aware of it, enjoyed it. After the Game 1 win in Anaheim on Wednesday the Preds locker room was all business, focusing directly on the task at hand in Game 2 and remainder of the series.
Taking nothing away from the Ducks, but Nashville’s play has been the deciding factor in both games. Last year it was about the Hawks – what they didn’t do in Game 1 and what they did do in Game 2. This year it’s been about the Preds – what they did in Game 1 and what they allowed in Game 2.
Nashville was clearly the better team in Game 1. And Game 2 was as much about what Nashville did wrong (take too many penalties) as it was about what Anaheim did right. The Ducks converted on their opportunities -- most notably both ends of the early five-on-three power-play -- and took advantage of the bounces that went their way; they won Game 2 fair and square. Everything went against the Preds early in Game 2 and Nashville battled through the adversity, weathered the storm and regained momentum by the end of the game.
When the Preds have stayed out of the penalty box and forced the Ducks into even-strength hockey, the play has been slanted in Nashville’s favor. Even when the Preds were ahead in Game 1, the Ducks was never able to string together multiple dangerous shifts and were never able to swing momentum in their favor. Last year against Chicago the Hawks came in surges; the whole building could feel the wave of momentum coming from Chicago… there hasn’t been that counter by the Ducks in this series. Through the first two games you can probably count on one hand the number of times the Ducks even rolled out back-to-back strong shifts. And the Ducks haven’t played poorly; look at how they played in the regular season and compare that with what they’ve done in the start of the series … in this series they’ve been pretty much what you’d expect them to be.
Nashville just hasn't given them the opportunity. And that’s where the big difference runs between this year’s Preds team and last year’s playoff squad. Chicago set the tone for the series last year – when the Hawks didn’t play up to their potential, the Preds made them pay. This year Nashville has set the tone for the series – when the Preds played their game in the opener and in the third period of Game 2 they were at a level the Ducks didn’t have the depth to match. Anaheim’s frustration level was visible in Game 1; their relief noticeable when the final buzzer sounded after Game 2.
Just like last year the Preds will return to Nashville with a 1-1 series, but the air around the series couldn’t be more different.