Anaheim marched through the regular season capturing the Pacific Division title and the second best record in the Western Conference. Fueled by their defeat at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final last season, the Men in Orange are driven to capture Lord Stanley’s Cup one more time. The Preds come into the playoffs playing the best they have all year, winning 16 out of their last 28 contests. They are a dangerous and fast team - just the kind of team that could give the Ducks nightmares if they let them.
Anaheim, by the benefit of their division title and second place conference standing, get to play a wild card in the first round. The Ducks are content to let their in-state rivals, the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks, beat each other up in the first round. But, the Predators won two out of the three matches with the Ducks this year. The Predators are not going to be an easy out for the Ducks. As a matter of fact this could be an upset.
Ducks: Anaheim has outstanding special teams components. Not since the ’84-’85 New York Islanders has a team finished first league-wide for both penalty kill and power play. But Anaheim did it and it really never happens. Anaheim led the NHL by scoring on 23.1 percent of its opportunities and killing off 87.2% of them. The main power play groupings include Getzlaf, Perry, Vatanen, and Fowler on the top unit while Thompson and Cogliano are featured on the penalty kills. Defensively the Ducks are physical and aggressive. They play with an edge and are unafraid to use their size to an advantage or jump into a play. The Ducks are also blessed with two number one goalies in Gibson and Anderson. They complement each other and support each other and have a good rotation to keep fresh.
Predators: Defensive hockey. Nashville plays its best when everyone is committed to playing a strong game in front of its goalies. The Predators are effective in terms of creating turnovers on the forecheck or in the neutral zone and turning those into offensive opportunities when everyone buys in to playing defense. It requires discipline. They can use their speed to close gaps and have improved zone coverage in the defensive end. If they are on their game then it will be tough for Anaheim to create many high quality chances.
Offensively, the Preds rely heavily on Johansen, Forsberg and Neal to make them go. However there is potential for balanced scoring all through the lines they roll out. Guys like Wilson can get goals while on the third line. As far as coaching is concerned, the Predators have the advantage there. Peter Laviolette has the Preds using a up-tempo style that also helps create turnovers with their defense. The goal is to play fast and aggressive team that pushes the pace. Additionally, Laviolette has the experience being successful in the Stanley Cup Playoffs having won the Cup with Carolina in 2006 and getting the Flyers to the Finals four years later.
While on the Other Hand:….
Ducks: Injuries, illness, injuries. During the final weeks of the season the Ducks had a slew of players who either were injured, or sick, or both. Rakell, Pirri, Kesler, Gibson, Vatanen and Bieska are have been, or are out, for the Ducks. Anaheim thinks the vast majority of their walking wounded will be available for the start of the playoffs. The Ducks need them but it will remain to be seen how effective these players will be coming back.
Coaching is also an area of concern for the Ducks. Bruce Boudreau has not been the best post-season coach. As a matter of fact, Boudreau has three Game 7 disasters while the Ducks coach so until that number gets better he is somewhat of a liability.
Predators: Let’s be honest. The Predators are not as good of a hockey team as the Ducks are. They are not. Their forwards aren’t as good. Their blue line isn’t as good. Their goaltending isn’t as good. If Anaheim plays like they are capable of playing then this should be a sweep in four games or at worst 4-1. But we shall see.
Conclusion and Prediction: As I have said Anaheim is the better team and should win this series handily. But, as I have said in the beginning of this piece it comes down to discipline. If Nashville plays to their strengths and EVERYONE buys in on defense, then the Predators could win. Laviolette’s coaching is worth one win alone.
I feel Anaheim is ripe for a fall and the Predators are going to give them nightmares.
Nashville in 7