Will Over Skill

by | May 15, 2017

Will Over Skill

by | May 15, 2017

The following makes sense: Ducks fans don’t care how their team came back from a 2-0 deficit on Sunday night to even the series with the Predators. They only care that they did it. Nothing else about this game is decipherable at all.

Just to get to an overview of the game, it was essentially this: Nashville up 2-0; Ducks looking out of it. Ducks claw back to 2-2 with a late-period power play goal to get things going and an early second period regular strength marker to tie it. Nashville goes up, then Ducks take over and leave them in the dust. Add an empty net goal, and it’s 5-3 at the end. Now to the details and the absurdities of this game.

You had two goalies that played way below their abilities, until John Gibson got himself righted in the second and third periods. Before that, both he and Pekka Rinne in the other net were flopping around the ice like a fish on the deck of a boat.

Witness these examples:

On the second goal by the Predators, Gibson made a good save off a puck that floated to him, then lost it altogether as it went out to the point. Or so he thought. It was actually at the left of the net, his right side. But he was moving out to find it as if it were at the point. (That “were” is called “subjunctive mood,” for those of you who like grammar. There are none of you out there? Rats!) Meanwhile, Neal was deking it into three feet of open space and tucking it into it a net strangely absent of minder.

On Rinne’s part, the Ducks’ second goal had him dead to rights, the puck going to the left side where Silfverberg was all alone and blasted it in. This was not the kind of steadiness from either netminder, but especially Rinne, that the series began on.

He wasn’t much better on the third, or the fourth. But wait for that.

There were crunching hits, mostly delivered by the Ducks, that seemed to get the Predators off their game. At least, one could say that they didn’t have the kind of resolve that they had in game one, especially from the defense, which wasn’t initiating play as they have earlier in the playoffs. (I’m not convinced that they were all that good in game one either, actually.)

The one person perhaps most affected was Ryan Johansen, who was the special target of Ryan Kesler. He was a topic of conversation with the media after the game. The question came to his coach, who responded: “I think he’s played terrific.” When he was pressed, he added, “I think Ryan has been completely composed.

But to circle back to the start of the game. The Ducks got down 2-0, but the second Nashville goal was on the power play. The first, at just 4:18, came because the Anaheim did what it did so successfully to win against Edmonton—send a defenseman in on the attack. This time it was Montour, an amazing skater, who rushed with Kesler but got caught up ice while the puck was put out to center in an area pass-type play by Arvidsson. It was picked up by Johansen, who flew in on Gibson and shot low and to the goalie’s left for the tally.

So how did the Predators end up losing? The turning point came with a minute to go in the first period. Nashville had jumped out to that 2-0 lead before midway through the frame, on goals by Arvidsson and Neal. The first was even strength, with the Kesler line on the ice. The second came with an extra man. Then the Ducks took over.

The Ducks went on the power play when Johansen high-sticked Kesler off a faceoff. He sat, and the Ducks saw Sami Vatanen take off and go right to center, after the puck was dumped out. Getzlaf got it outside the blueline on the left side, zipped the puck over to Vatanen, and he skated it in to the same dot Nick Ritchie had scored from to end the Edmonton series.

Vatanen teed up and slapped the puck high over Rinne’s far shoulder. It might have slightly skipped off the stick of Mike Fisher, who had gotten back and was stretching to affect some kind of block. There was precisely a minute left in the period, and the Ducks were taking just their fourth shot. They would end the period with five, to Nashville’s ten.

Think about that, too. Each goalie was working at 80% efficiency. Fifteen shots, three goals. Not what was expected. But Carlyle did say after that it wasn’t possible that Rinne (whom he didn’t name in the sentence) would keep being as good as he has been. “There’s going to be inconsistencies. I don’t think every goaltender can have a save percentage of .950 and above for extended series, because players are too good. There’s too many variables that take place. Good goaltenders, elite goaltenders, doesn’t matter, it’s all based on the will of your team to get to the front of the net, the dirty areas, and make the goaltender see pucks that are that they have to see through people, around people, get second and third opportunities, deflections. That’s what the NHL’s all about.”

Rinne himself commented on the game, which would eventually see him ceding four goals (the Ducks got a fifth into the empty net with 44 seconds left to go). “Obviously disappointing. Personally, in that second period we took the lead again, and then couldn’t hold onto it, but that’s playoffs, ups and down, and move forward to the next home game.”

He would later say, “We had enough chances, and you can’t, you gotta play a solid sixty minutes to win these games.” He said that the Anaheim fourth goal was one that he would like to have back. “For sure, personally, I want to have that back.” He also said that the Vatanen goal was key to the comeback.

But not so fast. A power play goal is one thing, but the real change in fortunes was made by Carlyle’s in-game adjustment with about two-thirds of the first period gone. This was to switch up two lines.

What had been the first line of Rakell, Getzlaf, and Perry was suddenly, late in period one, Getzlaf, Nick Ritchie, and Ondrej Kase. Kase and Ritchie had started on the third line with Vermette. This change would pay its dividends much later, when Ritchie would score his third goal of the playoffs, and his second winner. It would come at 17:07 of the second period.

The third line now became Rakell, Perry, and Nate Thompson, up from line four. They would be seen together until late in the game, when Perry once again got moved up to the first line with Kesler and Getzlaf. (Two centers for insurance on the draws—heck, there was even a faceoff, with about a minute left, where all three forwards were centermen: Vermette, Kesler, and Getzlaf.) Once the Ducks started rolling, they didn’t stop. Nashville had no chance.

But that took until the Ducks had their backs against the wall.

Rakell talked about that after the game. “I wish we didn’t get down in the first place. But I think we have three, four lines going, and they just keep pushing through and driving that net hard.” He then said, “It’s almost like, we feel like, I mean, we shouldn’t get down in the first place, but it’s almost like we feel like, ‘Ah well, we’ve got nothing to lose now. It can only get better.’ That’s when we play our best game. Hopefully we can do that from the start sometimes.

And Getzlaf was pressed on the same matter in his press conference, delivered alongside Ritchie on the lighted stage that the NHL uses as things get to this point of the season. “I don’t want to say we’re doing things the hard way. We’re in a Conference Final here. There’s going to be no sweeps, no blowouts . . . . We did a good job bouncing back after last games’ performance. The start of the last game we weren’t that good, and we made a point of coming out and playing hockey tonight. We gave up two goals, somehow, but our group’s been able to maintain a workmanlike attitude and get back in hockey games.”

Carlyle said simply, “Tonight’s response, after getting down 2-0, is a character builder for our group.”

In fact, they were playing their game, but the first goal was just a miscue. The proof of that would be what would happen after. And I’ve already said that the Ducks got one back late in the first and then early in the second.

How early? 39 seconds early. But the Predators would take the lead again. Gibson had made a couple of very nice saves when Arvidsson grabbed a puck and went down the right side of the ice. He faked a shot, then went around the net, putting it back out front to Forsberg, who slammed it in. Gibson was lying down on the ice, spinning, literally. Again, though, this was due to a Ducks’ mistake. The puck had been solidly in the Nashville end, but Silfverberg threw a blind pass backwards across the blueline area in order to allow the Preds to start it back up the ice.

But Rinne was no better. He let a puck dribble through him for the Ducks’ third goal, one that barely made it over the goal line and was snatched back out fast enough to demand review. It had been called a goal on the ice, and that was upheld. This was Anaheim’s thirteenth SOG.

The scorer of the winner would be Ritchie, as was said. The shot? He was flying down the left side, and he threw a puck up and over Rinne, who appeared to flinch down as it sailed past his head and into the net. Not acceptable, if you’re elite in the nets.

Carlyle: “We’ve talked about young players and their skillset and the things they’ve been historically been able to do, but not at the NHL level yet. And Nick Ritchie is a guy who has scored a lot of goals similar to what he scored tonight. A shooter in junior hockey and that’s what our project is, to continue to develop him into a power forward, and to have that release, that weapon that he possesses become more evident to the hockey world. We feel that he has offensive instincts and can score.”

So there were crazy plays, lazy plays, and goalies who looked, at times, decidedly human. That’s Ducks’ hockey, friends. Risky, but thrilling. You just can’t always say why what happens, happens.

In the last period, the most notable sequence happened when the puck came to the crease with Mike Fisher there. Gibson was down, but he kept alternately raising one leg and the other to stop any intended pucks. The sequence went on for maybe ten seconds, seemed like eternity, and resulted in nothing more than an amusing moment, albeit one that showed that the Ducks’ netminder wasn’t going to let anything he could do to stop the puck remain undone.

Randy Carlyle might be seen to sum up with this: “Playoff hockey is the will over the skill. When Nashville comes with five, involving their defensemen, making short changes, that type of stuff, we got into a receiving mode. But it’s more important that people are going to sacrifice for the good of the team. That’s what playoff hockey is all about.”

He also indicated, “You have to live with the ebbs and flows that take place. We look it as we were down 2-0, and we found a way to come back in the hockey game, and that’s a character builder for us. And I’m sure from their standpoint, they’re looking at it and saying they gave up a 2-0 lead, and that hasn’t happened for [them] very often.”


The teams play Tuesday in Nashville, then Thursday, and come back to Anaheim for game five on Saturday.

Ryan Getzlaf had three assists, continuing his monster playoff performance.

Follow me on twitter @growinguphockey.

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