The Nashville Predators continue their journey in the Stanley Cup Playoffs tonight when they play in their first Western Conference Final.
The Preds have traveled to Anaheim to face the Ducks in Round Three, the second consecutive season the two have gotten together in the playoffs. Nashville topped Anaheim in seven games in 2016, the second time they've beaten the Ducks in the postseason. But the two have never met under these circumstances with the potential reward at an all-time high.
"Last year's playoffs are a long time ago," Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "It's a different team, a different group and we're in a different spot right now. I guess probably the best thing to do is just keep our head down and keep doing the work."
Ryan Ellis and Ryan Johansen are tied for the Nashville scoring lead with nine points apiece, followed by Roman Josi and Filip Forsberg with eight. Ellis and Josi - both defensemen - lead the team with four goals, while Forsberg and James Neal have three each. Goaltender Pekka Rinne continues to lead the League in these playoffs, going 8-2 with a 1.37 goals-against average and a .951 save percentage.
The Ducks have been led by Captain Ryan Getzlaf in the playoffs, with the veteran forward amassing eight goals and 15 points through 11 games. Jakob Silfverberg has seven goals and 11 points; Rickard Rakell has six goals and 10 points. John Gibson has gone 7-3 in these playoffs with a 2.80 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage.
Video: JOFA line prepares to face Ryan Kesler in Game 1
As the Predators foray into their first conference final, here are three things to watch for:
Let's Get Physical:
Much like what they just saw against St. Louis, Nashville is expecting another physical series with the Ducks. The Predators did a fine job matching that against the Blues, with players like Austin Watson continually setting career highs in hits.
"They're going to be physical - that's what they do and we want to do the same," Captain Mike Fisher said. "I thought we stepped up and played solid against St. Louis, a physical series, and we're going to need more of the same."
Video: Josi and Wilson look ahead to challenges of Game 1
Taking penalties hasn't been much of an issue whatsoever for the Predators in the current postseason. Nashville has been shorthanded two times or less in seven of 10 games in the playoffs, and have seen their penalty kill click at an 87.5 percent success rate.
On the contrary, Anaheim has been shorthanded 42 times through two rounds, allowing 13 power-play goals. Special teams always stands the chance to play a large role in the playoffs, and this series shouldn't be any different.
Video: Previewing the series between the Ducks and Preds
Blue Line, Activate:
The Nashville defense - when they're not stifling the opposition - continues to provide plenty of offense as well. Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis are tied for the team lead with four goals apiece, with Ellis recently tying a franchise-record, seven-game playoff point streak. A Preds defenseman has now contributed either by scoring or assisting on 16 of the last 18 goals and 20 of 27 in the playoffs, with 27 points overall from the backend.
Take It In:
Game One of the Western Conference Final from Honda Center in Anaheim comes with an 8 p.m. CT start time and can be seen on NBCSN or heard on 102.5 The Game.
For full details on the series, including plaza parties, giveaways and where to watch Preds games, click here.