ANAHEIM, Calif. – Dan Ellis has worn both jerseys in Anaheim’s burgeoning rivalry with Nashville over the past year, so the Ducks’ new goalie is pretty sure he knows what he’ll see when his current and former employers meet in a first-round playoff series.
His Ducks are offensively brilliant, tremendously fun to watch, and on a serious roll. Nashville is disciplined, defence-oriented—and very due for some playoff success.
The fifth-seeded Predators begin their sixth shot at the first playoff series victory in franchise history when they visit Honda Center on Wednesday night to take on the fourth-seeded Ducks, who streaked all the way to home-ice advantage with a 15-5-0 finish to the regular season.
“You couldn’t be a whole lot more different in some ways, but there are some similarities, too,” said Ellis, who left Nashville last summer after losing his job to Pekka Rinne. “It’s almost guaranteed to be a fun series to watch.”
The clubs’ marked contrasts in philosophy should be most obvious when Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, Nashville’s peerless defensive combo, match up against the Ducks’ top line featuring NHL goal-scoring champion Corey Perry, playmaking captain Ryan Getzlaf and resilient winger Bobby Ryan.
Suter and Weber have consistently shut down most high-scoring forwards this season, while Perry has scored on almost every defence down the stretch of his 98-point season for the Ducks, getting 19 goals in a 14-game span while Anaheim sprinted to the playoffs.
“It’s going to be a big challenge,” Suter said. “They’re all big, strong guys, and if it’s not them, you have (Saku) Koivu, (Teemu) Selanne—who else, you have (Jason) Blake. You have a lot of talent over there that has won before and knows what it takes to win. It’s going to be a big challenge for us.”
The Ducks are just as impressed with Suter and Weber, with coach Randy Carlyle calling them the NHL’s top defensive pairing. Their former goalie agrees.
“They log a ton of minutes, play power play and penalty-kill, just doing it all,” said Ellis, Nashville’s goalie during its 2009 first-round loss to Detroit. “I can’t imagine there’s two better D-men together in the NHL. They’re both going to be All-Stars and Hall of Famers by the end of everything.”
With their strength contrasting so neatly, both teams realize they’ll be challenged to adjust their weaknesses. Nashville has just two 20-goal scorers and nobody with more than 50 points, while Anaheim’s 235 goals allowed were the most by any playoff team except Tampa Bay.
The Ducks’ defensive discipline and the Predators’ offensive ingenuity could end up deciding the series, Perry believes.
“We have to be patient,” Perry said. “They don’t have any high-flying offensive forwards, but they have a balanced attack, and we’ve got to take care of both ends of the ice. We’re going to sit back and wait for our opportunities. We can’t force it, especially our line.”
Along with Nashville’s increasingly dominant defence, which gave up 41 fewer goals than Anaheim, the Predators head into the playoffs with rapidly improving health after a lengthy injury parade.
Martin Erat (back) skated Monday, and the 50-point scorer is expected to be ready to seek redemption after his boneheaded pass allowed Chicago to tie Game 5 of last season’s series with 13.6 seconds left. Veteran playmaker Steve Sullivan (groin) is expected to be available along with Cal O’Reilly, who broke his leg Jan. 2.
Most of Carlyle’s injury problems are in his net, where all-star Jonas Hiller has played just 83 minutes since early February while battling vertigo. Anaheim rode veteran goalie Ray Emery down the stretch during its winning streak, yet Ellis got the Ducks’ playoff-clinching back-to-back wins last weekend when Emery was out with a lower-body injury.
Carlyle never announces his starting goalie until pregame warmups, but the coach said all three are likely to be available to him: Emery and defenceman Francois Beauchemin returned to practice Tuesday, and both should be ready to go.
The Ducks don’t yet know whether the series will be the final playoff hurrah for Selanne, the 40-year-old superstar coming off an 80-point season. Selanne is contemplating retirement yet again after nearly quitting last summer when Anaheim missed the playoffs.
“Forsure, this is why I came back,” Selanne said. “This is the fun time of year. We got ourselves a really tough series, but this team has been playing really well for a long time now. I don’t think we’re ready to stop right now.”
AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville contributed to this report.