The Anaheim Ducks knew the stats. The ones that suggest that getting off to a slow start in game seven is certain death. They knew their own history, too. The last three years, they’ve blown series wins by losing in game seven. Each time, they got off to horrible starts. Versus Detroit (2013) they let an early 1-1 tie get to 3-1 and never got it back. Versus LA (2014) they got down by five goals and never had a hope. Last year they gave up four to Chicago and lost the game also. They knew this. They recited these facts in their minds.
And still they came out flat against Nashville and got down 2-0 in period one. The shots were not that far off, Anaheim with nine and the Predators with 10. But the play, oh the play. The Ducks had two penalties thirty seconds apart, but they killed them. Or let’s say it another way: those are not what killed the Ducks. Rather it was their lack of penetration into the Nashville zone, their lack of ability to get the puck to the net and disrupt Pekka Rinne’s ability to handle it.
The numbers were against them from the start. Teams who score the first goal in a game seven have a .741 record in those games (coming into the evening; the stats would change, obviously, with Anaheim’s loss). They’d won 120 of 162, now 121 of 163.
In the Ducks’ case, they’ve gone 2-0 when scoring the first goal in a game seven, and 0-5 when not doing so. That was prior to Wednesday. Now it’s 0-6. They also knew that they’d let their opponents of the aforementioned three years get early goals each time. So it was imperative not to do that.
The Ducks said the right things in advance of the game. They promised not to play a tentative game, not to just let things happen, not to play not to lose. Is that enough “nots” for you?
Boudreau, by the way, had a dismal 1-6 record in seventh games coming into the evening.
And what did Anaheim do? Allowed a goal at 6:19 of period one. Then another before the first period was over. In fact, they didn’t even get out of the gate with any alacrity. Two shifts in a row to start the game, the Predators pressed and took shots on net with a crowd in front. The first goal was a steal by Colin Wilson on the right boards, from Simon Despres, then a deke and a backhand shot. Not Andersen’s fault, but then again, if this was what people said—Andersen has to play better than Rinne—then a spectacular early save would have been quite useful.
When the Ducks did press, in period one, they mostly turned the puck over behind the Nashville net or failed to get it past the hashmarks. They were never close to scoring.
Anaheim got themselves into penalty trouble early, too. A puck went past Vatanen, and he had to chase, then get in the way of Neal of Nashville. Interference call. The Ducks cleared a couple of pucks, but then Bieksa took a slashing call. Why? Because he was standing still at the blueline and let a guy get past him.
But puck luck was also with the Preds. Vatanen came out to the blueline to block a shot. He turned, and it hit him on the back of the leg. Then instead of bouncing away, it went up in the air and straight down again onto the defenseman’s stick, inside the blueline.
If there was a strategy that Nashville employed, it was to use the strongest two-man forecheck possible. Because the Anaheim defense were tentative, not skating the puck, Nashville was easily able to push them back, not letting their offense get going.
On the other end of the puck, they would rush three guys, though Anaheim wasn’t letting them have the third guy wide right as they had been in earlier games, and so this didn’t yield anything dangerous. In fact, their shots, other than the two goals they scored, were never all that worrisome. Andersen played well, but he didn’t have to be Quick-like great, as the LA goalie was in a losing effort against the Sharks.
Their second goal was scored a minute after a power play chance expired. A point blast was redirected by Gaustad with a stick that looked exactly at crossbar height. A brief review indicated that it was a good goal. The Preds then started to forecheck even harder, with two guys in and one trailing but always coming forward and pressing.
When Anaheim did get the puck to the Nashville end, they often did exactly the wrong thing. Cogliano passed it backwards to the slot and lost it. Others, as the game went on, did the same. Why this lack of drive? Confidence maybe was a problem. More likely, it was the way Nashville got itself positioned on defense, always just in the lane or boxing out out front. Roman Josi talked about that after the game. “We knew they were going to make a push. I think we could have managed the puck a little better, but we did a hell of a job offensively. It was definitely a team effort, the whole series. Our team is only successful if we play as a team and everybody’s going. They move the puck pretty well in the o-zone, but our guys did a great job of getting in the shot lanes and getting out hard.”
The Predators lost their heads a bit in period two, taking three minor penalties. They continued this march to the box in the third, with two more, though the latter was offset by a Ducks penalty. As Nashville started to deconstruct, the Ducks came on. They hit and loosened up the puck. Between about the five- and eight-minute marks, they held all the play. The shots, which had been 11-11, were 15-11 for Anaheim by this point in the second. The announcer asked the crowd to “make some noise,” but it all seemed so artificial, and futile. They hadn’t been into it from the beginning, because they, too, read the papers. And the tea leaves. And they know the knockout blow is not one that Boudreau has in his repertoire.
The Ducks kept pressing. Perry came in right side with a slapshot. Getzlaf dropped to Bieksa coming in. He took a shot and Rinne made a glove save with Perry crashing to the net and jamming under the pad.
Nashville took an offensive zone penalty with about five minutes to go in P2, but they walloped the Ducks on the PK. It went like this: The Ducks lost the faceoff. Then Kesler fell at the blueline and Nashville cleared. Then Ellis stole a puck from Vatanen in the neutral zone. Nashville broke up a play in the center ice area. Finally Getzlaf got a shot, but it was from the point and not dangerous. Nashville cleared it. There was then a blocked shot. Mike Fisher next cleared a puck whilst not wearing a helmet. Each team got a shot on goal on the man advantage. What a disaster.
With nine seconds left in the period, hope. A puck went to the net, but it hit a body. Perhaps it was Cogliano’s. It didn’t matter. That’s just how the Ducks’ night was. Nashville did take a penalty with 4.1 seconds left. It was a worthy hold, keeping Cogliano from possibly scoring.
So two frames done and the game still 2-0. The Ducks did little to improve their cause early in the third with the power play. Twice, Fowler got the puck at the blueline. Twice, he skated to his right and waited just long enough for the Nashville players to get in the lanes. Lindholm got the puck in the slot with his back to the net, and instead of turning around and firing it eight feet to the cage, he passed it back out to the point. Stupid.
They did score on the next play, when Lindholm passed to Silfverberg at the side of the net and he putting it out to Kesler, who launched it far side. So with more than 18 minutes to play, the Ducks needed just a goal. Surely that was possible?
Nashville did what they did so often in the series: they responded aggressively. They attacked with three guys in and forced the Ducks to back into their own zone with the puck. This happened three times. Nashville then took a penalty (Fisher, 3:23) which they killed while allowing nothing more than one Kesler one-timer. They once again were aggressive in their zone particularly. Smart.
Still the Ducks pressed. Garbutt came in and whipped a wrister, but Rinne made the save with his gloves in front of his face, as he had done so many times. The puck later went to the net, perhaps bouncing in. A crowd collapsed onto Rinne. The replay showed that it got by the keeper and bounded off the post. Puck luck. Not with the Ducks on this evening.
Things pretty much came apart for Anaheim when Getzlaf, in the slot in front of Rinne, tripped a Nashville player. Nashville held the puck on the delay for 1:08, burning the clock down to about five to go. That meant that Anaheim would have just three minutes to work with at even strength to try to tie.
Getzlaf got out of the box; they iced the puck. They took their timeout. The goalie was pulled with 1:10 to go. Perry took a shot and got a rebound, the best chance for him perhaps in the series, and Rinne made a second save, with the leg. Vatanen took a slapshot from the point and broke his stick, just one symbol of the futility of Anaheim’s hopes. The Ducks got some brief life when Calle Jarnkrok missed the empty net after carrying the puck in on the right side. There were 32.4 seconds left when the puck was faced off in the Nashville end. The puck went to the front. Jamming resulted in no goal. Another faceoff with 17.4 seconds left again led to nothing, and Boudreau and the Ducks had done it. They’d blown their fourth 3-2 series lead with game 7 at home and lost.
The Ducks, in the person of Ryan Kesler, said that they thought they’d played a better game than Nashville in periods two and three. “It comes down to one goal. Obviously, we had ah, bigger expectations. It’s a terrible feeling. I don’t feel like we should be done right now. I feel like we should be going on. But it’s one game, and anything can happen, and it did. When you outbattle a team like we did tonight and we really had the better scoring chances and outplayed them, to fall short, it’s tough. I think we just got off to a bad start. . . . I thought we were the better team . . . but we just couldn’t get one. Obviously they’ve got a good goalie over there. That’s what happens in game sevens.”
Actually, that’s what happens when you play a weak first period, don’t counter the other team’s well-coached defensive play, and fail to make smart decisions when the puck is on your stick. It’s got nothing to do with what ought to have been.
Boudreau repeated the idea, and even Peter Laviolette of the Predators credited them for good play down the stretch. “I thought they did press, and maybe played their two best periods of the playoffs” in periods two and three.
The Ducks outshot the Predators badly in the late going, true, but they had only a couple of chances that you’d call “Grade A.” But in the end, who’s going to remember that this loss was “better” than the three prior ones, especially since this was just the first round, and the Ducks were slated to go way farther than this?
Perry commented, “The second and third periods, I thought we threw everything at them. A bounce here, a bounce there, and it can be a different story.” He’s right. Nothing went Anaheim’s way. But was it, as Boudreau said, kind of fated? “We thought, in the third period, we still believed we were going to tie it up. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
Ryan Getzlaf said of the loss, “There’s no explanation for it. They played better than us again tonight. It was a back-and-forth series where we put three games together where we played flawlessly. We didn’t put the next two together.” At least he’s more realistic than Kesler, and his coach.
Coach Boudreau was asked about his future and his team’s future. He said, “I just come to work everyday until somebody tells me not to.” Not likely he’ll have to wait all that long to hear something. His rope was short coming in. Now it’s at its end.
Please read my books over the summer. Facing Wayne Gretzky is the newest one. Growing Up Hockey is the classic.