When Nashville and Anaheim met in Music City three weeks ago, the two teams were jostling for playoff positioning on the Western Conference bubble.
With their respective late-season surges, Randy Carlyle’s club will go toe-to-toe Barry Trotz’s troops in an unlikely 4 vs. 5 first-round matchup in the Western Conference in their first ever playoff meeting
Led by the trio of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan, the Ducks come in as the most dangerous team in the West. But Nashville, who is still seeking their first playoff series win, has other ideas.
The Predators took three of the four meetings with the Ducks in the season series. Two of the meetings included dramatic endings.
“We played them well this year, but that doesn’t mean anything now,” said Preds forward Mike Fisher. “They’re a great team, especially with the way they played down the stretch. It’s going to be a great series.”
For two small markets like Nashville and Anaheim, there is certainly a good amount of star-power between them. Two of which are emerging superstars – Perry (50 goals, 98 points) and Preds netminder Pekka Rinne (2.12 GAA). Players like Shea Weber, Teemu Selanne, Getzlaf and Ryan also add a lot of intrigue to this series.
Both defenses will be under pressure in this series, but for different reasons. Nashville’s top pairing of Weber and Ryan Suter is considered by many to be the best in the entire NHL, but will be put to the test against the hottest line in the NHL. On the other side of the coin, Anaheim must deal with the Preds’ effective forecheck, which can be a mismatch and flat-out annoying to some teams.
“They have a lot of skilled guys who can make plays,” Suter said of the Ducks’ talent. “They’re big, they’re strong and they know what it takes to win. It’s going to be a big challenge.”
The biggest question mark for the Ducks, who went 15-5-0 in their final 20 games, is who will play in goal. Dan Ellis played in each of the last three games and performed admirably. He took over for Ray Emery, who suffered a lower-body injury last week against San Jose. All-Star Jonas Hiller has played in just three games since the start of February as he continues to deal with vertigo.
It’s anyone’s guess whether Emery and Hiller will be ready by Wednesday, which means Ellis will likely be going up against his former team to start the series – which could be a good or bad thing.
“It probably helps a little bit,” Trotz said of having familiarity with Ellis. “We’ve had a big turnover since he’s been here, so we probably have more guys that know him than him knowing our guys.”
The Predators, who went 11-3-1 in their last 15 games, are looking to get past the first round for the first time in six attempts. Trotz hopes to get more healthy bodies back in the lineup – namely Martin Erat and Cal O’Reilly – to increase the offensive depth. This team isn’t as deep as years past, but Rinne and Weber’s stellar play makes them a threat to everyone in the conference. It’s a big moment for the franchise, as they are seeking to take that next step and become a Stanley Cup contender.
In summary, this will be a hard-fought series that should go six or seven games. Anaheim has the experience, while Nashville has the look of a team ready to breakthrough. Will the high-flying Ducks keep up their great play and advance? Or is this the time that the well-balanced Predators finally get over the hump?