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Three Things for Ducks vs. Preds Game Six

With Berth in the Stanley Cup Final on the Line, Preds Aren't Underestimating Their Opponent

by Thomas Willis @TomAWillis / Digital Manager & Producer

18 and 10: Forward depth was the topic of discussion in Round Two when Vernon Fiddler and Cody McLeod scored the game-winning goals in Games One and Three, respectively, against the St. Louis Blues. Oh how naive we all were.

Following the insertion of Frederick Gaudreau, an undrafted 24-year-old forward making his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut, into the lineup on Saturday, the Predators tied an all-time NHL record. With 18 different forwards used in the 2017 playoffs by Nashville, no other franchise can say they've utilized more.

"It's huge, especially in the playoffs," d-man Roman Josi said of the Preds depth stepping up. "You need that. You have so many different guys contributing on the offense, and it's huge. It's been huge for us. A lot of guys scoring goals and it's huge in the playoffs.

As for the game-winners, the Predators have received game-winning goals from 10 different players, James Neal being the only Nashville skater with more than one.

In unpredictable fashion (or maybe it should be predictable at this point?), Pontus Aberg, who had a total of 25 NHL games to his name prior to Game Five against Anaheim, cut to the net to follow up a Filip Forsberg drive and poked the puck into the cage with 8:59 remaining in regulation. His first-career goal in the playoffs, his first-career game-winner.

"I mean, it's fun," Aberg said. "It's a lot of guys. We can play together from down in Milwaukee too. To see Freddy [Gaudreau] step in there, and play a heck of a Game Two. Like you said, 18 forwards is pretty impressive."

Video: Josi, Wilson and Aberg talk Ducks vs. Preds Game 6

Don't Count Them Out: A certain stat was written dozens of times leading up to Game Five between the Preds and Ducks: the winner of Game Five in a 2-2 series goes on to win the best-of-seven series 198 of 252 times (79 percent), including 5-for-5 already in this year's playoffs.

After a Preds' lineup lacking Ryan Johansen, Mike Fisher and Kevin Fiala pulled off a 3-1 victory in the contest, history shifted to Nashville's side. But considering this year's Ducks team, that may mean very little.

"We know how good of a team they are," Josi said of Anaheim. "They're never out of a game, never out of a series. So we have to make sure we're prepared for tomorrow."

Anaheim has already faced elimination once in this postseason when they shook off a 7-1 loss to Edmonton in Game Six to take Game Seven at home. The victory in the winner-take-all contest was the Ducks first in five tries; an accomplishment that vaulted them over a literal and psychological hump.

Don't forget their two comebacks of three or more goals in the postseason either. Or their victory in Game Two after spotting Nashville a 2-0 lead. Or winning Game Four in overtime despite a collapse down the stretch. Or even that Nashville lost Game Five to Anaheim in the 2016 postseason and came back to win Games Six and Seven.

The point is Nashville can't - and most importantly isn't - taking anything for granted as they return home with an opportunity to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final.

The work-first-celebrate-later mentality remains, and that's a very good thing.

"I think that the guys are dealing with everything really well," Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "We're not the most experienced team. We have a lot of young players, and I think they've handled everything really well to this point.

"Guys know what's at stake. And we had a quick meeting this morning before we got on the plane just to talk about some things. But the guys will be ready to play."

Video: Laviolette talks about chance to advance to Cup Final

Best Player Again: Was No. 35 in the white jersey feeling the most pressure entering a crucial Game Five in Anaheim? Maybe. But if so, he didn't show it.

Down their top two centers for the contest, Nashville was realistically expected to hurt for offense. That meant Pekka Rinne would be asked to limit the opposition to one goal or less if Nashville was going to emerge the winner.

A couple shots sneaking through screens or a deflection or two and it might have been over.

But on a night when they probably needed him the most, Rinne was again the Predators' best player.

"He's been dialed in all playoffs," Laviolette said of Rinne. "I think last night was just more of what he's been giving us. He gives us an opportunity to win games."

"He was great last night," Josi said. "He's made unbelievable saves, he's been great through the playoffs. The team has so much confidence in him. It's awesome playing in front of him, and he's been unbelievable."

Following 32 saves to improve to 11-4, Rinne now has the fourth lowest goals-against average (1.62) and the fourth highest save percentage (.942) with a minimum of 15 games played in NHL postseason history.

At home in Game Six in a potentially series-clinching game, he'll be asked to be just as good.

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