When round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs features marquee match ups, as it does in 2011, the teams in the middle of the pack can easily be forgotten. The Original Six tension of the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens, coupled with the hatred fueled rivalry of the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks, has NHL marketers and television executives drooling with suspense.
One has to admit that on name recognition alone, the Anaheim Ducks and Nashville Predators series has little hope of competing for attention. The Ducks-Predators series, however, holds a great deal of potential for both the short and long term of the 2011 playoffs.
Both the Ducks and Predators have the potential to be the surprise team still alive in June. If that is to happen, it will be done in two different ways.
The Ducks enter the first round riding a wave of momentum. Powered by the highest scoring top line in the NHL and an ageless Teemu Selanne, the Ducks have proven to be dangerous is all situations. The roster also boasts a healthy number of Stanley Cup rings, which is a factor that can’t be forgotten.
While there are plenty of questions between the pipes as Ray Emery battles injury and Jonas Hiller continues his struggle with vertigo, Dan Ellis has proven he can deliver results when called upon. Consistency will always be Ellis’ problem, but the defensive corps in Anaheim has been given a strong mix of veteran leadership and rookie enthusiasm.
Any team with Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan and Rocket Richard Trophy winner Corey Perry is one to be taken seriously.
While many of the Ducks players are enjoying the sunny California lifestyle, their opponents in Nashville are busy displaying the blue collar qualities that define their city.
The Predators can’t boast about their offensive power. The Predators’ highest scorer, Martin Erat, had as many total points as Corey Perry had goals.
In Nashville, the road to the playoffs is paved with great goaltending. The Predators ranked second in the NHL for goals against during the regular season. Such impressive results come from a strong defensive system and spectacular play by Pekka Rinne.
Barry Trotz does the same thing every year. He takes a team without a bona fide offensive star and through grit, determination and patience gets his team into the post season. Aside from a poor season in 2008-09, the Predators have been one of the most consistent teams in recent memory for playoff appearances. Getting beyond the first round continues to be their biggest challenge.
This year the Predators added Mike Fisher and with that acquisition brought more playoff experience into the locker room. If Erat and Patric Hornqvist can deliver consistent offense, the Predators could take advantage of the Ducks uncertainty in goal.
The opposite strengths of these teams are what make the series so interesting. The Ducks’ offensive strength collides with a top tier defensive system. While at the same time the Predators limited offensive will try to take advantage of average goaltending (a definition dependent on the status of Emery and Hiller).
With such different systems of play and the fact that both teams finished the season with 99 points makes this series open ended. This is the type of series that could easily give either team a ton of momentum and confidence moving forward.
Ducks-Predators will be a true fan’s playoff series. The glitz and glamour may be missing, but these teams demonstrate the best in hockey’s subtleties.