The Ducks-Predators matchup should be one of the closest first-round series. What will the difference be?
SERIES STARTS: Friday, 10:30 p.m. ET, in Anaheim.
HOW THEY WIN:
DUCKS: If Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry aren’t the best 1-2 punch in the league, they’re the best when it comes to offense and getting under the skin of the opposition. They don’t always play on the same line, but when they do it’s magic. With Getzlaf distributing and Perry finishing, Anaheim has the No. 2 power play in the league and No. 4 since 2005-06, when those two became regulars.
The additions of David Perron and the maturation of Rickard Rakell have helped diversify the offense so opposing checkers can’t just focus on Getzlaf and Perry. It also helps the attack that Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm are three mobile blueliners with creative minds and excellent playmaking abilities. The Ducks also thrive on playing a heavy game in both ends.
PREDATORS: That Nashville had the luxury of trading Seth Jones is a testament to its supreme blueline depth and talent. The Preds may have the best top pair in the NHL between Shea Weber and Roman Josi. Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis have also taken steps forward this year. This team runs its offense swiftly from the back end. That said, young left winger Filip Forsberg continues to bloom into the elusive sniper Nashville had always lacked. He was unstoppable in February and March, even recording two hat tricks in a three-game stretch.
The Predators rank among the top possession teams. They have a lot of workman-like forwards who can handle a gritty style, from Mike Fisher to James Neal. The Ryan Johansen trade has given them the big scoring center they’ve wanted for a while.
HOW THEY LOSE:
DUCKS: October was a terrible month for the Ducks. They just couldn’t find the back of the net despite some solid puck-possession play. Anaheim scored just 10 goals in 10 games, winning one of them and getting blanked five times. But time and the law of averages took care of that, and the Ducks have been among the league’s best since.
In past years, Anaheim has lost in the playoffs when the opposition honed in on Getzlaf and Perry and largely neutralized them. It’ll be interesting to see what other teams will do when and if the dynamic duo stay productive on different lines. While John Gibson and Frederik Andersen are both capable Nos. 1 and 1A, they’re each prone to slippages and still lack the pedigree of go-to bonafide stoppers.
PREDATORS: It feels strange to list Pekka Rinne in the “how they lose” section. He has not been himself, posting one of the worst save percentages of any NHL starter. At one point, coach Peter Laviolette played backup Carter Hutton over a healthy Rinne in consecutive games, which had never happened. The gigantic and athletic Rinne did improve after the all-star break, so maybe he’ll peak at the right time.
Nashville lacks elite scoring ability behind Forsberg, meaning second-line forwards get forced into first-line roles, third-liners become second-liners, and so on. Laviolette has had to lean on a few too many rookies, from Austin Watson to Viktor Arvidsson to Miikka Salomaki to Colton Sissons. Can they win battles in the trenches against anexperienced playoff powerhouse like Anaheim?
DUCKS: The Ducks are well aware that any road to the Stanley Cup final has to go through the likes of Joe Thornton, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews. That’s precisely why Anaheim went out and got RYAN KESLER a couple summers ago. The two-way genius has 13 playoff rounds under his belt and reasonable success limiting the production of the West’s big No. 1 pivots, while turning the table and countering with offense as well. Kesler is a playoff warrior who’s excellent in the faceoff circle and has the ability to raise his game a notch on demand.
PREDATORS: CALLE JARNKROK is starting to show why Nashville wanted him in exchange for David Legwand two trade deadlines ago. Coach Peter Laviolette trusts Jarnkrok, a heady player for his age. His ice time has jumped from 12:51 last year to more than 16 minutes per contest. He’s gotten some first-line looks, and he averages the second-most shorthanded minutes among Predators forwards. Jarnkrok also has some untapped scoring ability. Four of his 16 goals were game winners. He is a sneaky clutch-moment threat for Nashville.
KEY MATCHUP by Dom Luszczyszyn
The marquee matchup here is obvious, and it’s the one between two senior members of Team Canada’s 2016 World Cup team: Ryan Getzlaf vs. Shea Weber. With the reputation Weber has as an elite all-around shutdown D-man, you’d think his numbers would look better, but as it turns out he’s actually among the league’s worst shot suppressors relative to his team. His offensive numbers still look good, but the defence is way below board. Some might say it’s because he plays tougher competition on a regular basis, and while that’s true, the fact that Getzlaf has ate his lunch over the past five years in head-to-head doesn’t help Weber’s cause. Getzlaf is obviously an elite talent and shutting him down is no easy feat, but you’d expect someone with Weber’s rep to fare a little better. If Nashville wants to win this series he’ll have to be.
THN’s pick: DUCKS.