Hi ho, hi ho, to the Western Finals we go!
–Breakdown and Prediction for Ducks vs. Predators–
By: Cory Vest
The monkey, nay the gorilla, making a home on the back of the Anaheim Ducks was finally evicted, as the Ducks defeated the Edmonton Oilers in a win or go home game 7 at the Honda Center. Thanks to a Nick Ritchie goal early in the third period, the Ducks are moving on to the Western Conference Finals. Winner of the series will advance to play for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
The Ducks will face the foe who sent them packing last year, the Nashville Predators. The Predators were proud to add a tally mark to the Ducks’ game 7 losing streak, when they knocked out the Ducks in the first round of last year’s playoffs. They’ll look to outduel the Ducks again as the series starts Friday, May 12th.
The hockey club hailing from Nashville, has been a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs thus far. In the first round, the Preds made quick work of the Chicago Blackhawks. On their way to a 4-0 series sweep, Pekka Rinne bunkered down between the pipes and allowed only three goals in four games. The Nashville net minder pitched two shutouts. An impressive performance by Rinne to say the least, considering the Blackhawks averaged 2.93 goals per game during the regular season, good for 9th in the league. The Predators did not rely strictly on their goaltender for their wins, they supported his play with 13 total goals in the series; never scoring less than three in a single game.
The Predators faced a bit more resistance from the St. Louis Blues. The Blues managed to grab two wins before they were tossed from the playoffs. The Blues started the series by scoring three goals in back to back games. After that, Rinne became a nay-sayer, letting only five goals get by him in the next four games.
The Flames never burned the Ducks in their first-round series. Anaheim came away with a nice golden glow if anything. The Ducks swept their way to the second round just like the Predators. The Flames managed to put home 9 goals in the series, while the Ducks netted 14. The glory and excitement of a first-round sweep was short lived for the boys of Anaheim, as Edmonton stormed their fort. The Oilers got two road wins to claim a quick 2-0 series lead. In what was a back and forth, streaky series, the Ducks edged out the Oilers in game 7.
Nashville’s last game took place on May 7th, leaving them with a nice five-day rest. Whereas the Ducks were involved in a hard-fought win on May 10th; meaning they will only have one day of rest following a knockdown, drag out, 7 game series. One is to assume resting and allowing the bumps and bruises to heal, is always a benefit. But on the flipside, as one rests, momentum stalls and rust can develop. With that being said, the Ducks may have to overcome exhaustion in the series opener. However, a game 7 victory could provide enough of a push to keep the Ducks trucking toward victory.
The Ducks possess the size, strength, and speed needed to make things happen on offense. Led by their captain Ryan Getzlaf, the Ducks have plenty of firepower. The Ducks certainly perform well when Getzlaf is on the ice, as he possesses a plus/minus of 9 and is averaging 1.36 points per game. The Predators will have their hands full as the Ducks are relying on a three-headed monster for offensive output. In the playoffs, Getzlaf, Jakob Silfverberg, and Rickard Rakell, rank 2nd, 3rd, and 5th respectively in goals scored. Getzlaf’s 8 goals, Silfverberg’s 7, and Rakell’s 6, account for 21 of the Ducks’ 35 playoff goals.
The Predators have relied on a more balanced attack. Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg have contributed the most points at the forwards position. The Predators’ offense is comfortable distributing the puck, getting several players involved on offense.
Although the Ducks have been led by three specific players, the rest of the front line are more than capable of producing. Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, and Patrick Eaves (if/when healthy) are all very viable threats.
The Ducks again outsize the Predators when it comes to defensemen. Size isn’t everything however. The Predators are allowing only 28.8 shots on goal per game. While they are stingy with shots against, they do their fair share of creating, and taking, shots. Boasting some of the best offensive performing defensive players, Nashville’s Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, and P.K. Subban, have a total of 24 points between them. Broken down, that is 9 goals and 15 assists between the three. Answering the Ducks’ talented offensive trio are the Preds’ mean three on D. Ellis and Josi can create headaches for offenses, as both often find themselves in shooting lanes. Ellis is averaging 3.2 blocks per game, while Josi is averaging 2.3. Ellis also chips in with his ability to take the puck away. In the playoffs, Ellis has committed larceny eight times.
The Ducks are no slouch on defense. The back line is not afraid to get physical and mix things up. Physicality will not win you games though. Lapses and collapses have led to the Ducks giving up goals in bunches. Open passing lanes and an inability to clear the puck for extended lengths of time, have led to the Ducks giving up 35.8 shots per game; the most for any playoff team still alive.
John Gibson has played very well throughout the playoffs. Gibson has come through in various situations. With an ability to cover ground, his quick reactions and flexibility, prove to be key assets to his game. Boasting an impressive .908 save percentage, Gibson has stopped 275 shots. He has managed to record a more than respectable 7-3 record in the playoffs. Unfortunately for Gibson, he has seen his fair share of hiccups. On two separate occasions, Gibson was relieved of his duties mid-game. Against the Flames, Gibson gave up 4 goals on 16 shots leading to a second period exit. In game 6 against the Oilers, Gibson barely had time to settle in, as he was yanked after allowing 3 goals on only 6 shots. Overall, Gibby is letting 2.80 goals slip by per game.
This category really leaves little room for debate as Pekka Rinne has outperformed every goalie who has stepped foot on the playoff ice. Rinne has an absurd .951 save percentage, which entails 274 saves out of 288 shots. In the 10 games he’s played, he’s only allowed 14 goals; good for 1.37 goals allowed per game. Two games have resulted in shutouts for Rinne. Heck, he’s even managed to get himself three assists. The man in the net for Nashville has been nothing shy of fantastic.
– Power Play Percentage/Penalty Kill:
o Edge: Predators
o Edge: Ducks
o Edge: Ducks
The Ducks and Predators will exchange blows as the series goes to seven games. Yet again, the Ducks will have a second straight series go the distance. With the game 7 woes behind them, the Ducks will start a new game 7 streak, one that consists of winning. Gibson will need to step up in order to match the play of Rinne. While Gibson will have his pitfalls, he will bounce back with shutdown performances. A steady attack that sees Corey Perry and Ryan Kessler find the net multiple times in the series, will be too much for the Predators. Although the series will be low scoring, expect plenty of intensity. Penalty killing, and capitalizing on opportunities will spell success for the Ducks. Ducks get the game 7 win, and advance to the Finals.