Ducks kick off playoff vs. Predators at Honda Center
PREDATORS (44-27-11) at DUCKS (47-30-5)
Nashville 7-2-1; Anaheim 7-3-0
The Predators took three of four games from the Ducks this season, the most recent being a 5-4 win in Nashville on March 24.
After opening one season against each other, it seems fitting that Nashville and Anaheim can open another. The Predators and Ducks met to open the regular season in the fall, with the Preds grabbing a 4-1 win at Bridgestone Arena, but one imagines the game might look slightly different now. This is not simply because Nashville has added Mike Fisher to give it added offensive depth or because Anaheim's Corey Perry
has had a breakout season, but with the two teams opening their first-round postseason series against each other Wednesday, the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is sure to add a level of intensity the Preds and Ducks didn't quite reach when they dropped the puck in October.
The playoffs are nothing new to the Predators, who are in the field of 16 for the sixth time in seven seasons, but what looms over this team is not where it's been, but rather where it hasn't. Nashville, despite being one of the more consistently bankable postseason teams of the last decade, has never reached the second round. Last year was a close call, with many not remembering that the Preds were seconds away from putting the eventual-champion Blackhawks on the brink in Game 5 of their first-round series before Patrick Kane's late goal forced overtime and led to an eventual Chicago win.
Memories of that series likely remain prescient for most on the Nashville roster, but this season, the Preds may finally be set up to break the opening-round hex. With a solid defense and one of the best goalies in the League in Pekka Rinne, who finished second and third in save percentage (.930) and goals-against average (2.12), respectively, Nashville has the ingredients for a postseason run. The Preds have also somehow flown under the radar in the last month despite being one of the best teams in the West, as an 11-3-1 run in the last 15 games lifted Nashville from outside the top eight to the fifth seed.
Anaheim, too, was propelled by a late-season run that pulled it up into the top eight, but to many the Ducks' rise can almost solely be attributed to Perry, who has been hotter than southern California in August, let alone April. Perry has scored 19 goals in the past 16 games -- and notched 11 assists as well -- giving him a total of 50 on the season and handing him the 2011 Maurice Richard Trophy. The ageless Teemu Selanne
also did his part, tallying 15 points in the last 11 games. As a result, the Ducks rose from outside the playoff field to home ice in the first round in a matter of weeks, and are one of the hottest teams in the West at the start of the postseason.
Given all those good feelings, however, there is much concern over Anaheim's goaltending situation, which has been in flux ever since starter Jonas Hiller
began suffering symptoms of vertigo in early February. While Hiller has started twice since then, he has still not been able to play consistently, leaving much of the work between the pipes to Ray Emery
and Dan Ellis
. Emery got most of the work as the season wound down, going 7-2-0 with a 2.28 GAA, but according to coach Randy Carlyle, a lower-body injury has left him unlikely to start the series, meaning the duties will fall on the shoulders of Ellis. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Ellis, who started 31 games for Nashville last season, has gone 8-3-1 since coming to Anaheim in February.
Sergei Kostitsyn has started to come on for the Preds in the season's later weeks. Prior to Nashville's season-ending shutout loss to the Blues, the former-Canadien had tallied 15 points over an 11-game point streak. … Lost in the impressive run by Perry is that Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf
has had a stellar stretch run of his own with 19 points in the last 11 games.
Given the statuses of Hiller (vertigo) and Emery (lower-body injury), both are currently listed as questionable. Todd Marchant
, despite flu-like symptoms, is considered probably for Anaheim. … The Predators could be without Martin Erat, who missed their season-ending loss to St. Louis, and is questionable for undisclosed reasons.
The pressure could be on Predators coach Barry Trotz considering Nashville has yet to win a playoff series in his tenure, which has spanned the franchise's entire history. Often overlooked is the fact that the Preds have made the playoffs six of the last seven seasons, a mark bettered only by Detroit and San Jose.
The only certainty of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is that the unexpected will rear its ugly head at some point. With both of these teams playing very well as the season wound down, any real, discernible edge is tough to locate, but Game 1 could reveal if Anaheim's goaltending situation is enough of a concern for the Ducks, particularly against the steady Rinne, who has just two regulation losses in his last 11 starts.