By Amanda DiPaolo
It took the last day of the NHL’s regular season, but the Nashville Predators finally know who they will face in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
For the second consecutive year, the Predators face a new opponent in the post season. And for the sixth time, Nashville is looking for their first playoff series win.
Can Nashville beat the Anaheim Ducks?
Like Nashville, the Ducks had a tremendous second half of the season to make their way into a post season position. Since the start of March, Anaheim went 14-5-0 to finish the season. One of those losses came against the Predators.
Nashville won the season series 3-1 this season, outscoring the Ducks 17 to 11 goals in that span. But two of the Predators games came in the first five weeks of the season when Anaheim struggled, including the Ducks lone victory against the Predators. On November 7th, Nashville lost 5-4 when Paul Mara scored with less than two seconds remaining on the clock to break a tie.
A trend this season has been high-scoring games. The Predators beat the Ducks by a 4-1 score twice, and the other two games both had scores of 5-4, once in favor of the Ducks and once in favor of the Predators. Looking at the season record, it might look as though it is a lock for Nashville, but Anaheim has surged, Corey Perry has emerged as a super star and Teemu Selanne has played inspired hockey as of late.
Despite the momentum going in Anaheim’s direction, Nashville has another hurdle to climb, playing on the road. The Predators will be starting the series at Honda Center. While the Predators have ever only won one road game during the playoffs in five previous series, Nashville also only has six wins at Honda Center, ever.
In 24 games, the Predators are 6-15-3 on the road against the Ducks. In the last two years, Nashville has split the two games on the road, which bodes well for at least coming back to Nashville with a split after the first two games.
While matchups will be discussed closer to when the series is set to begin, one other glaring concern is Dan Ellis. With Jonas Hiller tried to return to action when the Predators played the Ducks in March, but after letting in three quick goals it was evident he was not ready. Ray Emery is listed on TSN as having a lower body injury and is questionable for game one next week.
Without Hiller and Emery playing, Dan Ellis becomes the man in net for the Ducks. The former Predator used to play great against Dallas, another former team, when he was with Nashville. Could he play inspired hockey and not give anything to the Predators? Or will he play the way he did when Nashville played Tampa Bay in October? Whichever Ellis shows up in goal could play a significant part in Nashville’s potential victory.
Finally, the Predators will need to contain the top two lines of Anaheim. Corey Perry has emerged this season as a superstar, surpassing even his linemates — and household names — Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan. Teemu Selanne is also having a banner year at the age of 40. The Ducks have the third best power play in the League, behind only Vancouver and San Jose.
With the Predators tough time at Honda Center coupled with the explosive forwards as well as the potential for Dan Ellis to play with the extra motivation of beating the team who let him go, the Ducks will be a handful for the Predators.
Nashville will need to play disciplined, a full 60 minutes, and Pekka Rinne will need to continue to stand on his head. While it is expected that the Predators will do all of the above, they will also need to win on the road.
Coming up: Match ups — Strength in goal, defense and forwards — which team has the edge?
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