The Anaheim Ducks are just four wins away from making it back to the Stanley Cup Final.
Having finally put an end to their demonizing streak of Game 7 postseason failures on their home ice, the Anaheim Ducks will host the upstart Nashville Predators on Friday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. At one point, Anaheim took back-to-back puck-over-the-glass penalties. There's too much at stake. Nashville has won both playoff matchups against the Ducks, including a seven-game series in the 2016 postseason. When the Ducks advanced to the Western Final on Wednesday, the pick was upgraded to a first-round selection in June. The Predators got 11 power-play shots in the game but couldn't get any of them past John Gibson. "It will be a tough road but we are up to the challenge".
Notoriously slow starters throughout the regular season, the Predators have jumped on opponents in the playoffs, both in games and in the series.
Veteran goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is joining Sweden at the ice hockey world championships following the New York Rangers' recent elimination from the Stanley Cup playoffs. Attribute that to Nashville's strengths or Anaheim's fatigue, but either way, it was an impressive showing for a West wild card team that hasn't looked out of place with favorites during these playoffs. At times, Anaheim's players looked like they were skating in slush.
Nashville then invited no excess drama in dismissing St. Louis in six games, a rather routine thumping that left Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler noting the team's "ultra, ultra aggressive" style. "I have nothing but good things to say about this team". Even if Rinne falters, they can still rely on their elite defense corps to keep the puck out.
He also did everything he could to will the Ducks into this game, at one point controlling the play in the Nashville zone for 10 full seconds, notching two shots of his team-high five shots.
Through two rounds the Preds have proven to be deeper than either the Blackhawks or Blues, able to roll four lines over the boards.
Just two days after surviving Edmonton, the Ducks had to face Nashville in an early-starting game - and they were promptly outskated and outclassed for long stretches by the well-rested Predators.
It would have been easy for the Predators to start their series against the Blues like Anaheim did; lackadaisical and with little urgency. Carlyle would have preferred an extra day off, but Honda Center is booked for the Stars on Ice touring show Saturday night. "I thought we did that up until we gave up a goal in overtime".
Rinne is now the playoff leader among goaltenders with an astounding.951 save percentage and 1.35 goals against average (GAA).
The executive director of the Oilers Foundation, Natalie Mickler, told the CBC, "I think that was the most hats we've seen".
While Rinne appears to be at the peak of his skills again, his counterpart still has something to prove.
Nashville took advantage of the tired Ducks early with goals by Austin Watson and Filip Forsberg, who tipped Matt Irwin's shot through traffic midway through the first period. The Selke Trophy finalist's next shutdown assignment is likely to be Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson, the Predators' dynamic top line. "It's a great symbol in how we are all the same".
If he can get back to exploiting defenses and using his small stature and maneuverability to his advantage, he will add a lot to an already very risky Nashville offense, led by the likes of Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and an incredible group of defensemen. Led by Roman Josi and P.K. Subban, supplemented by Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm and rounded out by Yannick Weber and Matt Irwin, the Nashville defense is GM David Poile's masterwork. Anaheim still rallied to force overtime on Hampus Lindholm's clutch third-period goal, but James Neal ended it for Nashville. Johansen has been a key piece in Nashville's run to the franchise's first ever berth in the Western Conference finals.
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