The Ducks were looking to overcome a disadvantage on Saturday, but not the one you’d think. They were looking to overcome the boost that comes with being at home, which Coach Boudreau said late in the week sometimes amps them up too much. And silly me—I praised them for an exciting environment in the first two games, which took place at Honda Center last weekend. Both losses.
Even after the Saturday game, he repeated this: “The first two games, they were just so in awe that it was the playoffs. They were so wound up that, uh, once things started to fall off the rails, we couldn’t catch it.” He said that the play on this afternoon was much better. “They were saying, ‘Stay with structure, stay with structure,’ and we were able to come back a little bit and get out of [trouble, when it came] much better.”
Saturday at 3pm, things were a bit different from the earlier contests in Anaheim. The arena wasn’t full to start, for one, and barely there as the game went on. Seat groupings of four and six in a row were unclaimed, though mostly full by the end of the first. And truthfully, the atmosphere wasn’t quite at the hype level than the first two games had been.
On the ice, the team had to overcome a historic disadvantage—they have never come from down 0-2 to win a playoff series. Two years ago, they came back against the Kings only to lose an eventual seven-game tilt in disappointing fashion. But the problem of not closing well is something that’s still a ways off. They’ve got to get it to where that’s possible first.
Saturday, their first period didn’t have the snap that most observers from the local area might have wished for. Their shots were just one behind Nashville’s 12 to 13, but they did nothing with two power plays, and really might have been down a goal or two were it not for several good, point-blank saves by Frederik Andersen.
Nashville’s game, on the other hand, was heavier at times that in games 3 and 4. They forechecked hard. They broke in in threes. They spread the puck wide right to a guy who the defense generally didn’t have the ability to cover.
The Ducks had nothing going with the extra man. They had three times into the zone on their first PP, for example. The first time, they got set up and Rakell lost the puck. The second time, they got nobody in deep. The third, it was in the zone well, but then Kesler lost it.
Meanwhile, Nashville was shooting from everywhere. Their most dangerous chance happened when Josi got a puck wide right. He did a one-timer and Andersen made a stretching glove save. They didn’t score, but with five minutes left, they poured it on. Their best chance happened when the puck went to Viktor Arvidsson in front. He shot, and Andersen got it between arm and body and squeezed it. The frame ended with minors for each side a few seconds apart.
Period two started with Nashville again on the attack. The Ducks survived by blocking shots, including one that Getzlaf took off the foot, and one where Josi went across the crease, fired a backhand, then flew through the air as Andersen made a leg save.
The game also got chippy. Neal hit the Ducks’ Silfverberg from behind, not near the boards though, and got the attention of Bieksa and some others. Cody Bass came in to challenge Bieksa. Nothing resulted.
The Ducks then attacked, with Kesler turning up a puck at the blueline of Nashville at full speed, then going in and shooting with Cogliano on his left side. The puck went right by Cogliano on the rebound. Weber had something to do with that, as he was there to sweep it away.
The Ducks got another power play midway along, and they set guys up a couple of times, but each time, passes had to be double-clutched, and this allowed a crowd to get in the way of the line from puck to net and negated any chances.
Then Nashville scored. Thompson of the Ducks swept the puck to the corner as he fell and slid along the ice, and Colin Wilson grabbed it at the end boards, swept it in front to Johansen, and he backhanded it into the net up over Andersen.
But the Ducks answered within the minute. In fact, 22 seconds later. It was a lucky one, a slapshot that hit the defense in front of the net and bounced high and over Rinne, who uselessly stretched out his glove hoping to grab it. David Perron had shot from the point.
Then Anaheim struck again. It was two minutes later. Garbutt, who Coach Boudreau was later to say played well, went to the back of the net and grabbed a puck by beating two guys. He shot from behind the goal line and banked it in off Rinne’s pad. Boudreau’s description: “It was hard work. He raced down the left boards, and beat them to a puck, then finished it behind the net. It ended up that it’s just hard work and determination. It’s all him. When he plays like that, he’s very effective.” He later said of the player, “He’s as good a forechecker as we have. He’s responsible defensively, and if people take liberties, he’s not afraid to mix it up.”
Garbutt himself described the tally by saying, “Those are the kind of goals you’ve got to score to win. . . . I saw it open up pretty quick, but I was just trying to throw it on net and maybe have a rebound come out in front. Fortunately, it was able to bounce to the back of the net. I was able to catch the goalie kind of off the post a bit, so I was pretty lucky for that.”
The second period thus ended 2-1, with the shots standing at 20 apiece. They would eventually be 32-29 for the Ducks, with the score 5-2. The final goal would go into an empty net, Kesler skating it down on a pass from Getzlaf and making sure he put the insurance marker square in the center.
But that third period showed that this is not a series where the now-leading Ducks can say they’re for sure going to have an easy time and take home the win after six games. The teams traded penalties, the first actually being recorded at 20 minutes of the second by Neal. The Ducks burst ahead 3-1 when Vatanen came out of the box, got a breakaway pass from Silfverberg, and went alone on Rinne, shot low, and scored. The crowd, and this is not a cliché, went wild. Why not? Spectacular. Nashville got one back when a slapshot-rebound combination was left at the top of the crease for Salomaki to sweep in off Weber’s shot. Actually, it was not a rebound in the technical sense, since it hit Salomaki rather than being saved by Andersen and was then put it by that same player.
The Nashville coach, Peter Laviolette, was, he said afterwards, quite happy with how his team played. “I think our guys handle adversity well. They have since I’ve been here. When we look back on this game, there’s a lot of good things we did. We didn’t get the score.” He added, “I thought we did a lot of good things. It’s difficult. We score one; I felt like we’re doing the right things, getting good opportunities and defending well. We get the lead, then we give one back right away. It’s really tough, a goal like that that’s a real fluky redirect. Then another one that’s another kind of a fortunate bounce as well.”
The Predators did not help themselves by taking two penalties in the last few minutes, which killed their comeback. Laviolette, however, said that he didn’t agree with a lot of the calls. He was, it must be said, talking about the early ones in the game. Of these later ones, he said, “They were undisciplined. We can’t take those late in the game.”
The first was by Ribeiro, taken in the Ducks’ end for slashing. There were just under four minutes left. The game was 3-2. Fowler scored just after the faceoff, on a long shot from the blueline. Amazing what happens when you don’t fire the puck a foot over the net, which he had done earlier in the game and the Kings, to bring them into this, did over and over in their San Jose series. So that was 4-2, and all that was left was for Kesler to put it away.
Laviolette said the usual things: “We’re going to regroup and be ready to play Monday.”
The series resumes on Monday evening in Nashville, and Boudreau was anxious to deal with the issue of whether his team could close it out. “Hey, this is a long way from being over yet. People would say we got outplayed today, and if it wasn’t for Freddie, the score would be different. We know we’re going into a hornet’s nest. It’s always hardest to win the fourth game, and we’ll have to play better than we did today to be successful.” He was further asked about closing out, and he said, “There’s all the old clichés. You want to win game six because you don’t want to have a game seven. . . . But it’s not as if we’re saying, ‘We’re guaranteed a game seven at home.’ We’ve got to go in there and absolutely play our best game of the series on Monday.”
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