The Anaheim Ducks got a couple of lucky bounces and capitalized on undisciplined play by the Nashville Predators to take a 3-2 series lead. The Ducks’ 5-2 victory sends them to Nashville with a chance to advance to the second round for the third consecutive season.
The first four games between Anaheim and Nashville saw the teams trade wins on home ice, but not in the way one would expect. The Predators took the first two games in Anaheim before laying two eggs in Nashville and watching as the Ducks knotted up the series at two wins apiece.
It felt like an inevitability that the series would shift depending on whichever team struck first on home ice, and Saturday night the Ducks did just that with a 5-2 victory. However, were it not for the undisciplined play of the Predators, the outcome could have been much different.
That’s unfortunate, too, because one would think Nashville would have been wary of giving man advantage opportunities to an Anaheim team that boasted the league’s best power play, but the Predators gifted the Ducks six full man advantages on the night. Worst of all, they were preventable penalties, especially those taken by James Neal and a backbreaking slashing minor taken by Mike Ribeiro in final minutes with Nashville trailing by one.
Neal, who is one of the veteran leaders of the Predators, took a needless interference penalty midway through the second period when Nashville had offensive-zone possession, and then again headed to the box when he elbowed Corey Perry following the end of the second frame. Those two infractions help Anaheim kill precious time, but Ribeiro’s minor was the most costly. With him sitting in the box, the Ducks struck for the first time on the night when Cam Fowler’s blast eluded Pekka Rinne 11 seconds into the power play.
The undisciplined play should be especially frustrating for the Predators because Nashville looked as dominant in Game 5 as they have all series. The Predators almost completely controlled play through the first two periods. Anaheim got a sustained push in the third — and got the game-winner on a Sami Vatanen breakaway goal as he exited the box — but Nashville ended the game with nearly 60 percent of the 5-on-5 shot attempts. It was a perfect road game from the Predators, save the penalties that ultimately killed them.
Maybe it just wasn’t Nashville’s night, though, because even as they killed off penalty after penalty it appeared simple puck luck would send the Predators home with a loss. In a scoreless second period, Nashville took the lead when Ryan Johansen dazzled with a backhand tally that went up and over the shoulder of Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen, but it took only 22 seconds for Anaheim to get that goal back in what was a play that was a sign of things to come.
Trying to get a quick response in the shift following the goal against, Ducks winger David Perron simply threw the puck on net and hoped for a rebound, a deflection or a friendly bounce. He got the latter when Predators defenseman Roman Josi stuck out his foot, tipping the puck up and over Rinne and into the net. Less than two minutes later, Ryan Garbutt scored on a jam play at the side of the net that somehow squeaked over the line.
The Predators could have fought back from those bounces, though, and they likely won’t be blaming some unfortunate breaks for their loss in Game 5. The goals by Perron and Garbutt are plays that will happen, and the Predators earned a break of their own when Miikka Salomaki blocked a Shea Weber shot before slipping the puck home to pull Nashville within one.
Predators coach Peter Laviolette now needs to find a way for his team to regroup. After holding an almost unthinkable 2-0 series lead over the Ducks, the Predators are now on the brink of elimination after dropping three straight. The veteran players and their undisciplined play let Nashville down in Game 5, so maybe Game 6 is their chance at redemption. If there isn’t a change, though, the Predators could be saying goodbye to their season with another loss on home ice.