ANAHEIM, Calif. – When Pekka Rinne stuck out his gangly right leg just in time to block Teemu Selanne’s point-blank early scoring chance with his pad, the Anaheim Ducks realized exactly what they’re up against in the playoffs’ first round.
The six-foot-five Rinne and his Nashville Predators are a defensive puzzle that not even the high-scoring Ducks could solve in their opener.
Mike Fisher had two goals and an assist, Rinne made 27 saves, and the Predators clamped down defensively on Anaheim in a 4-1 victory Wednesday night.
Steve Sullivan got his first goal since mid-December, and captain Shea Weber also scored as fifth-seeded Nashville got off to a great grinding start. The Predators haven’t won a playoff series in five tries over the previous six seasons, but their defensive prowess has them up 1-0 on the road for the second straight year.
“That’s our game, and you saw how we like it,” said Rinne, whose Predators also held a 1-0, first-round lead on eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago last spring. “We like to play solid defensively and then score when there’s an opportunity. It’s not complicated, but when we do it the right way, we’re pretty good.”
Game 2 is Friday in Anaheim.
After taking the early lead on Weber’s power-play goal, Nashville put it away with the first three-point game in the playoff career of Fisher, the defence-minded forward who arrived in a trade in February after a decade in Ottawa. Fisher’s second goal, on a wrist shot through traffic, prompted Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle to pull former Nashville goalie Dan Ellis with 19:04 to play.
“They’re a good offensive team, so we had to make sure we played solid on both ends of the ice,” Fisher said. “We want to push forward, and not sit on our heels. When we do that, we can make it tough for even a good offensive team like that.”
Selanne scored during a two-man advantage with 8:36 to play for the fourth-seeded Ducks, whose late-season offensive surge was no match for the imposing Rinne and his defence. The Ducks hadn’t scored fewer than two goals in their last 16 games, but NHL goal-scoring champion Corey Perry and captain Ryan Getzlaf were thoroughly shut down—often by Weber and Ryan Suter, Nashville’s star defensive pairing.
The Ducks’ frustration boiled over into 40 penalty minutes in the third period, including three misconducts in the final minute. Perry also repeatedly tried to get his stick into Rinne’s pads, drawing Nashville’s ire.
“Their whole game kind of takes its toll and gets you out of your rhythm,” Getzlaf said. “If we can move our guys around and get out intensity up, that will help. It was hard to get momentum. We gave up that goal in the first period, and we were fighting back the whole time.”
Nashville went ahead 4:13 into the first period when little-used Ducks forward Matt Beleskey committed the first of two first-period penalties. Weber ripped a long slap shot past Ellis for his sixth playoff goal, matching the most in Predators history.
The Ducks had five players with more points than Nashville’s co-scoring leaders, but they couldn’t crack the Predators’ Finnish goalie until Selanne scored his 36th playoff goal.
“We just didn’t have it,” Perry said. “We weren’t on our game, and we weren’t executing. You don’t expect to have a game like this, but that’s why there are seven games in a series.”
Both teams headed to the playoffs on impressive late-season runs, flying into the upper echelon of the West playoff picture after being outside the top eight. Anaheim finished on a 15-5 streak to rocket all the way into fourth place, while Nashville went 9-2-1 in its last 12 games.
Ellis stopped 20 shots before being replaced by Ray Emery, who missed Anaheim’s last two regular-season games with a lower body injury. Ellis was the Predators’ starting goalie during their 2009 playoff run, but lost his job to Rinne last season.
While the Ducks are running out of healthy goalies with all-star Jonas Hiller (vertigo) still ailing, the Predators got playoff reinforcements, with 50-point scorer Martin Erat (back) and Sullivan (groin) returning from injury absences.
“Our top players were our best guys tonight,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “The guys were really focused. I saw great commitment all over the ice. … There’s some lessons in our past, but they’re serving us well this year.”
Sullivan put the Predators up by two goals when he outhustled Francois Beauchemin for a loose puck and scored on his own rebound late in the second period. Fisher then beat Ellis cleanly over the glove less than three minutes later.
NOTES: Nashville scratched C Colin Wilson, who played in all 82 regular-season games, and C Cal O’Reilly, who was activated from the injured list last weekend but hasn’t played since breaking a leg on Jan. 2. … Predators D and Orange County native Jonathon Blum made his NHL playoff debut, picking up an assist on Fisher’s second goal. He became the first California born-and-raised player chosen in the first round in 2007. Blum grew up in Rancho Santa Margarita, a planned community about 32 kilometres from Honda Center.