April 12, 2011
The Predators have again found themselves in the playoffs despite the lack of flash and star power held by other teams. Bottom line, Nashville gets the most out of everyone of its players and now the pressure is on to make that next step towards the second round.
The Ducks have been the darlings of the last two months. Between Teemu Selanne's(notes) continued greatness at 40 years old to Corey Perry's(notes) surge to Hart Trophy consideration and 50 goals, the Ducks have turned many heads of late, even as Jonas Hiller(notes) is sidelined and Dan Ellis(notes) has picked up the slack.
Can the Ducks continue to ride the momentum that's brought them to this point, and will Perry and Selanne continue to light the lamp on a regular basis? Is this is the year Nashville finally gets out of the first round?
Wednesday, April 13 Nashville at Anaheim 10:30 p.m.
Friday, April 15 Nashville at Anaheim 10:30 p.m.
Sunday, April 17 Anaheim at Nashville 6 p.m.
Wednesday, April 20 Anaheim at Nashville 8:30 p.m.
*Friday, April 22 Nashville at Anaheim 10 p.m.
*Sunday, April 24 Anaheim at Nashville TBD
*Tuesday, April 26 Nashville at Anaheim TBD
All times Eastern
Anaheim's red-hot finish down the stretch that vaulted them from 11th to fourth in the Western Conference with home ice in the first round can be heavily attributed to Corey Perry scoring his way into the Rocket Richard Trophy and a finalist spot for the Hart Trophy. Playing on one of the top lines in hockey with Ryan Getzlaf(notes) (76 points) and Bobby Ryan(notes) (34 goals), Perry was the only 50-goal scorer this season in the NHL, and if the Ducks are to get past Nashville, they'll need that production to continue.
Anchoring Anaheim's second line is ageless wonder Teemu Selanne, who at age 40 scored 31 goals like it was nothing.
The key to Nashville's offense has been a balanced scoring attack. Sergei Kostitsyn(notes) (23) and Patric Hornqvist(notes) (21) led the Predators in goals, while Kostitsyn and Martin Erat(notes) led the team in points with 50 or roughly equivalent to Perry's total over the past six weeks. Their forwards won't excite you, but it's hard to deny their ability to get the job done and contribute on all four lines.
Defense is not a strong point for the Ducks. An offensive defense however, is. Lubomir Visnovsky(notes) led all defenseman in the NHL in points with 68 and finished second in goals with 18. While rookie Cam Fowler(notes) finished a minus-25, he did score 10 goals and 40 points. In fact, only Visnovsky (+18) and Toni Lydman(notes) (+32) finished as plus players among Anaheim defensemen who played in at least 41 games.
One of the reasons Nashville has been a successful team is its consistent defensive effort. Shea Weber(notes) (62 takeaways) and Ryan Suter(notes) (84 blocked shots) lead the blue line as the veteran top pairing. Cody Franson's(notes) (eight goals, 29 points) star is on the rise after a great sophomore season, as well as rookie Jonathon Blum(notes) (17:45 TOI). Rounding out the defense for the Predators is Kevin Klein(notes), who finished top-10 in the NHL with 173 blocked shots and Shane O'Brien(notes) (164 hits) who is known for his physical game.
Before Jonas Hiller was sidelined by vertigo-like symptons, he was earning serious Vezina Trophy talk. But even despite his having played just three games since the All-Star break, the Ducks have been buoyed by the play of Dan Ellis (8-3-1, 2.39, .917 percent) and Ray Emery(notes) (7-2-0, 2.28, .956 percent). Aside from Corey Perry's brillance, Anaheim's depth in net might really be its MVP this season.
On the topic of the Vezina, Pekka Rinne(notes) is a name that will be among the three finalists for the award in June. As Nashville continue to be a goaltending factory thanks to the work of goaltending coach Mitch Korn, Rinne put up career highs in wins (33), save percentage (.933) and goals against average (2.12). Helping fortify Nashville's strong defensive presence, Rinne's play will be a large factor in determining how far the Predators go.
It's the same story every season: Barry Trotz does so much with so little. Not furnished with a lineup full of superstars, the Predators brass has been able to construct a lineup that's competitive annually. Trotz, the only head coach Nashville has ever known, deserves credit for that -- and a Jack Adams Award one of these days.
It's no secret that Randy Carlyle was on the hot seat heading into this season and after the Ducks gave him a one-year extension in December, they fought their way into the fourth seed after a hot streak in the second half. Even after injuries to Getzlaf and Hiller, Carlyle has worked in some of the younger Ducks into the lineup and the response has put them in a position of having home ice.
The Predators aren't heralded for their scoring abilities; that's why it's no surprise that their power play was highly ineffective this season ranking 26th at 15.2 percent -- worst among playoff teams. Their defense has allowed them to top the league in least shorthanded goals allowed with two. Nashville's strong defense resonates on their power play as they were fifth in the NHL at 84.9 percent.
Considering what Anaheim has in its arsenal, its power-play unit was tied for second overall with a 23.5 percent success rate. Perry and Selanne combined for 30 power-play goals, while 11 others contributed goals with the extra man. Anaheim was sixth in the West with 305 times being shorthanded and its unit killed power plays off successfully 81.3 percent of the time.
If these chairs had little refrigerators on the side like Joey from "Friends" had, they might be the ultimate accessory to any man-cave.
It might not sound like the most compelling first-round series on paper, but Ducks-Preds might be the most underrated series.
Nashville enters the playoffs for the sixth time in franchise history hoping that seven is its lucky number. The fanbase is hungry. The players are eager to take that next step and this is the team that will be able to do it.
If the Predators can slow Anaheim's top line of Perry-Getzlaf-Ryan and grab a lead, the defense can squeeze the life of the Ducks to win. Nashville will have to play incredibly strong defensively if it takes a lead as Anaheim has the ability to make a comeback in a heartbeat. This series has the potential to be a classic.
Prediction - Predators in seven.