The Nashville Predators advanced to the semifinals for the first time in franchise history by virtue of their hard-fought victory over the Anaheim Ducks in six games. Pekka Rinne shone in net, and Mike Fisher solidified himself as the mid-season prize in the league.
These two teams are built in completely manners, and represent two contrary team philosophies. Can Nashville's edge in goal negate the Ducks' superior firepower? Will Nashville be able to control the pace of play and score enough goals to remain competitive in this series? So many questions surround this fascinating series, but the overall edge falls to the red-hot Ducks. Even a team as solidly built as Nashville may not be able to completely stop the Perry line, and it's tough to pick the team with a defenseman as their leading scorer.
Ducks in 7.
In case you were keeping score, the answers to the above questions are as follows: Absolutely and Yes.
What Happened To Anaheim?
Teemu Selanne is an ageless god, scoring six goals in this series at the age of 40. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf scored 14 points between the two of them, very good numbers. Bobby Ryan had four points in the four games he played (even while serving a two game suspension). But the Ducks' offensive depth doesn't really spread past those two lines. During the regular season, Anaheim scored 28% of their total goals on the power play, a very high number. This series? The Predators took away that advantage by completely dominating five-on five, scoring 16 even strength goals to Anaheim's 10. The Predators even held their own. scoring six power play goals during the series. Nashville was middle of the pack, being called for 28 infractions this series; if they had eliminated a few more, they would have won this series in 5 games.
Jonas Hiller was the key loss for Anaheim. He hasn't been able to play regularly in net since suffering from ongoing vertigo in December, and forcing the Ducks to turn to journeyman (and former Predator) Dan Ellis, with recently un-retired backup Ray Emery handling most of the netminding duties. They were simply not up to the task of facing Pekka Rinne this year.
What Have We Learned About Nashville?
Pekka Rinne may be the best goalie in this year's playoffs (with all respect to Carey Price, Tim Thomas, and Jonathan Quick). Armed with a physical and sound defense in front of him, Rinne is nearly unstoppable. His .876 SV% and 3.29 GAA may look pedestrian, but he was also facing the best offense and top power play team in the playoffs, not to mention the hottest line in hockey. His splits are much better, as he sported a .915 SV% and 1.67 GAA against the Ducks even strength. Those numbers will win you most playoff series.
The bigger revelation for the Ducks is that they have more offense than captain Shea Weber. Weber, a defenseman, was only two points from the team lead during the regular season? Big red flag. But trade deadline acquisition Mike Fisher was dynamic, with three goals and three assists. The Predators overall sported seven different players with at least two goals in the series. Part of this is the lack of sufficient goaltending from Anaheim, but it's a wonderful sign of their status going into the semifinals.
Make no mistake, the Predators are likely underdogs no matter who they face next round. But with their goaltending and defense, they are a serious dark horse candidate to emerge from the conference. Now that they've won their first ever series, the sky is the limit provided they continue to get unexpected offensive production.