Game One couldn’t have started any better for the Nashville Predators. It took 35 seconds for James Neal to tally the first goal and set the Preds up for an eventual 3-2 win on Friday night for a 1-0 series lead over the Anaheim Ducks.
But even if the Predators aren’t able to tally within the opening minutes of Game Two tonight at Honda Center in Anaheim, there are still things the club will want to accomplish to ensure a quality start.
“We know they’re going to come out tonight in the first period with purpose, and we’re going to have to match that,” defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. “We need clean breakouts and maybe get some offensive time on them, and then grind some forechecks and some cycles on them. We just need to be ready from the start, and it’s going to be huge tonight.”
Head Coach Peter Laviolette predominantly liked what he saw from his team in the opening stanza of Game One, but would prefer to see the Predators spend less time in the box early on – not only to avoid having to defend Anaheim’s top-ranked power play (during the regular season), but also for his own team to get into a rhythm of their own.
“I thought we were good in the first period, but I think where we got into a little bit of trouble is just the penalties that we took in the first,” Laviolette said. “It took the roll out of the bench. we couldn’t get a rhythm, we end up using certain players too much, players are sitting on the bench, and that takes away maybe from the first four or five minutes of the game.”
The Preds know things won’t get any easier from here, and they’re preparing for an early push from the Ducks from the outset of Game Two.
“They’re talking about how they have another gear, but I feel like we do as well,” Ekholm said. “Just the importance of understanding that; we came out on the winning end in Game One, which was awesome for us, but it’s a totally new hockey game. They’re going to be even more desperate now, and we’ve got to match that.”
Laviolette is always cognizant of not looking too far into the future, and as a coach who has been to the Stanley Cup Final twice in his career, his experience is particularly beneficial at this time of the year. The Preds already have one win away from home, and they know there’s plenty of work to do if they want to return to Nashville with a 2-0 series lead for the first time in franchise history.
“I’ve sat on both sides of big leads and lost leads; I’ve been there on both ways, and there’s no guarantee on anything, not until you get a fourth win in the books,” Laviolette said. “It’s probably best to go slow and not focus on the percentages too much. I think if you start looking at yesterday’s news or looking too far down the road and getting ahead of yourself, you get yourself in trouble. It’s probably best just to stay in the day. They’ll be ready to play today, and we’ve got to make sure we’re ready to play as well.”