Forget the holidays, forget the summer and forget March Madness, because the most wonderful time of the year is upon us: the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For the ninth time in their history, the Nashville Predators have made the postseason. This time around, they’ll take on the Anaheim Ducks in the first round, and will be looking for their first series win since 2012. These two teams have history, and have already met once in the playoffs. It will be a tough, but entertaining series. In this preview, we’ll break down everything you need to know about these two teams and this series.

Series Schedule

Game 1: Friday 4/15, 9:30 PM CT, Predators @ Ducks, FSTN/NBCSN

Game 2: Sunday 4/17, 9:30 PM CT, Predators @ Ducks, FSTN/NBCSN

Game 3: Tuesday 4/19, 8:30 CT, Ducks @ Predators, FSTN/USA

Game 4: Thursday 4/21, 7:00 PM CT, Ducks @ Predators, FSTN/CNBC

Game 5*: Saturday 4/23, TBD, Predators @ Ducks, TBD

Game 6*: Monday 4/25, TBD, Ducks @Predators, TBD

Game 7*: Wednesday 4/27, TBD, Predators @ Ducks, TBD

*if Necessary

Team Records

Nashville Predators: 41-27-14, 96 points, finished as 1st wild card team in Western Conference

Anaheim Ducks: 46-25-11, 103 points, finished in 1st place in Pacific Division

Matchup History

Predators All-Time Record vs. Ducks: 30-38-2

First Meeting: October 27th, 1998, Predators Defeated Mighty Ducks 3-1

Predators All-Time Record @ Anaheim: 11-24-0

Predators All-Time Record vs. Ducks at Bridgestone Arena: 19-14-2

Playoff Meetings: One, 2011 Western Conference Quarterfinal, Predators won 4-2

(Courtesy of Mcubed.net)

2011 Series Recap: This series was one of the closest and most back-and-forth series’ that the Predators have ever been involved in. Nashville dominated the first game, winning 4-1 thanks to Mike Fisher’s two goals, as well as one by Steve Sullivan late in the second period. The Ducks came back with a vengeance in Game Two, jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the first period thanks to goals by Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne. The score got to 4-1, before Patric Hornqvist and Joel Ward made it a one-goal game. Bobby Ryan would seal it with an empty netter to bring the series back to Anaheim tied at one game apiece.

In Anaheim for Game Three, the Predators got the hot start this time, going up by two after one period. The second period belonged to the Ducks, as Selanne scored twice to knot the game. The score was tied at three early in the third before Fisher scored the game-winner with under 10 minutes to play. Anaheim won Game Four thanks to three early third-period goals to break a three-to-three tie.

Game Five was perhaps the most epic game in franchise history. Kevin Klein got the scoring started in the first for Nashville, before Jason Blake tied in the second period. The third period began with the goal of the year by Bobby Ryan, but the Predators were able to tie it thanks to Ward’s goal midway through the frame. It looked as if the Ducks had sealed it with the go-ahead goal by Blake with a little over five minutes to go in the third. Then, Shea Weber fired a laser wrist shot through traffic with 35 seconds left to tie the game and force overtime. In the extra session, a pass from Jordin Tootoo to a streaking Jerred Smithson set up the most memorable goal in Predators history to win the game.

The Predators would go on to clinch the series in Game Six back home in Nashville, giving them their first series win in franchise history and a date with the Vancouver Canucks in the second round.


 

Meetings This Season

Oddly enough, the Predators and Ducks haven’t played each other since November 17th, as they played their only three meetings of the season in the first half.

Predators record this season vs. Ducks: 2-1-0

First meeting: October 22, 2015, Bridgestone Arena, Predators 5 Ducks 1

In the first month of the season, the Ducks fell flat on their face out of the gate. This loss further reinforced their concerns as Anaheim struggled mightily. Despite outscoring Nashville 10-6 in the first period, the Ducks couldn’t muster a goal and the score was tied at zeros after the first. After that, the Predators exploded for three goals in the second from Eric Nystrom, Ryan Ellis and Mike Ribeiro to get a stranglehold on the game. The Ducks finally got on the board in the third, but it was too late, as the Predators had already put this one well out of hand.

Second meeting: November 1, 2015, Honda Center, Ducks 4 Predators 2

On the back end of a back-to-back set, the Predators looked sluggish and couldn’t muster much offense in Anaheim. The Ducks scored early and often, taking a 3-0 lead in the first period. Nashville came back with two of their own in the second period, but couldn’t find a second wind in the third period to get two more. This was Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen’s first victory of the season, and Predators backup Carter Hutton’s first loss of the season.

Third meeting: November 17, 2015, Bridgestone Arena, Predators 3 Ducks 2

This final matchup of the regular season between the Predators and Ducks proved to be a wacky one, as Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne stopped 38 of the Ducks’ 40 shots en route to a victory. The Ducks outshot the Predators 40-21, but still took the loss. Andersen was pulled in the second period after giving up three goals on 10 shots. The game was knotted at one goal aside before James Neal put the Predators midway through the first. In the second period, Miikka Salomaki tipped in an Ekholm shot for the eventual game-winner. The win capped off a strong five-game homestand for the Predators in which they posted a 3-1-1 record.


 

Projected Lines/Pairings

Nashville Predators:

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Injury Report: Miikka Salomaki has missed a couple games with a lower body injury. He may be ready for Game One. Other than that, the Predators are healthy.

Anaheim Ducks: 

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Injury Report: The Ducks are nursing a number of injuries headed into the series. Ryan Kesler sat out the team’s season finale against the Washington Capitals, as did John Gibson. However, both should be ready for Game One. Top-line winger David Perron has been sidelined since March 20th with a shoulder injury, and his status is unknown for the series. Rickard Rakell had an appendectomy at the end of March. Kevin Bieksa has also missed time since March, and Brandon Pirri recently went down with an injury. It’s unclear which players will be ready when, but as of now, it seems the Ducks will be missing a few key players at the start of this series.


 

Key Players for Both Sides

Nashville Predators:

Filip Forsberg

Even though he’s not playing on the top unit, Forsberg has been an integral part of the Predators’ success this season. He led the team in scoring, and his 33 goals placed him tied for first in single-season goals in Predators history. At the beginning of the season, it looked as if Forsberg had fallen into a bit of a sophomore slump, but he picked up his play big time, finding chemistry with his linemates, Mike Ribeiro and Craig Smith. Last season, during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Forsberg was the leading point-getter for the Predators. If they are to be more successful than last time around, Nashville will need Forsberg to light the lamp.

Colin Wilson

On the heels of his five-goal playoff performance last season, the Predators gave Wilson a nice payday and new contract. In 2015-16, Wilson has not lived up to expectations at all. He only has six goals in 64 games, and has been demoted to the bottom six. The Predators are going to need depth to win this series, and if Wilson can find that playoff magic again, they might be able to do some serious damage.

Pekka Rinne

It’s almost cliché to say that the Predators need Rinne to be good, but it is still very true. No matter what happens on the offensive end, the Predators’ chances in this series live and die with Rinne’s performance. In the 2015 playoffs against Chicago, Rinne’s 2.68 GAA and .909 SV% in 425 minutes of work kept Nashville in it through six games. If he hadn’t been sharp, that series would have gone downhill so much faster. Look for Rinne to continue his steady end to the season, and if he can stand on his head a few times, the Predators will be in good shape.

Anaheim Ducks:

Ryan Getzlaf

The Ducks’ leading point-getter for this season will have to lead the charge in the postseason as well. He is always a force on the ice, and alongside Corey Perry, he can really do some damage. This time around, however, Getzlaf will really have to step up in the absence of David Perron. The Ducks acquired Perron to complement Getzlaf and Perry, so without him, the Ducks captain will really need to be sharp. He may also need to make up for a battered bottom six that could be missing Rakell and Pirri as well.

Ryan Kesler

This won’t be the first time Kesler has seen these Predators in the postseason. While with the Canucks in 2011, Kesler helped defeat the Predators in six games in the Western Conference Semifinal. Throughout that playoff run, Kesler had 19 points in 25 games. Last season, in 16 playoff games, he had 13 points. Even though he isn’t on the top line in Anaheim, he’ll be a major factor. If he produces, it will take some of the pressure off of Getzlaf and Perry and free up the ice for some other under-the-radar players to start producing as well.

Cam Fowler

Ever since Rob and Scott Niedermayer graced the ice at the Honda Center, the Ducks have lacked a top-line anchor defenseman. Fowler may have to step into that role in this series, as the Ducks are going up against one of the most complete defensive corps in the NHL. He is second in points from defensemen on the team this year behind Sami Vatanen, and will likely end up on either the first or second defensive pairings, depending on how quickly Kevin Bieksa returns from injury. However, he was a -8 rating this season. The Ducks will need all the defensive help they can get, and will need three strong pairings. Fowler’s performance definitely factors in.


 

Match-ups to Watch

Shea Weber and Roman Josi vs. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry

This match-up is fairly simple. Getzlaf and Perry are the top two scorers on the Ducks, while Weber and Josi are the top defenseman on the Predators. These four players will likely share the ice a lot during this series, and if the Predators will want to win this series, they will have to slow Getzlaf and Perry down. The two dynamic forwards have such great chemistry together. They’ll be able to make crisp passes to each other from anywhere on the ice. The key for Weber and Josi will be to keep them separate and to cut off their space. Both Getzlaf and Perry are finesse players. If you take away their ability to move around the ice with speed, you take away their main leg up in scoring. Another thing Weber and Josi will have to do is avoid odd-man rushes with these two forwards. Taking on Getzlaf and Perry in a two-on-one usually won’t end well. This showdown may well end up deciding the series.

Predators depth vs. Ducks depth

In today’s NHL, no Stanley Cup is won without four deep lines of offense. Neither team has a stellar fourth line, but they each have players that have scoring abilities. Whichever team has the upper hand in the third and fourth lines might be able to get an extra edge in what will be a tight series. In terms of possession metrics, it appears that the Ducks might have an upper hand. According to War on Ice, most of the Ducks depth forwards have performed better against the Predators than Nashville’s forwards in those games. Nick Ritchie has a 77% Corsi for rating in the three games against the Predators, and Shawn Horcoff’s is close to 50%. Chris Wagner’s dropped to 26%. Meanwhile, the Predators depth forward have all been at or below a 50% Corsi for rating in those games. Miikka Salomaki hit the 50% mark and is the highest amongst that group, while Paul Gaustad came in close at 48%. The lowest was Colton Sissons at 25%. Often times, it is these depth players that decide close games, and there are going to be plenty of those in this series.

Anaheim goaltending vs. Themselves

The Ducks have never been known for their star goaltending over the last few years. This season, they have split John Gibson and Frederik Andersen almost evenly, and the pairing took home the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed. Gibson will likely have the edge to start Game One, especially considering he is tied for second place amongst qualified goaltenders this season in GAA at 2.07. However, historically, this goaltending has held the Ducks back from making the jump past the first two rounds of the playoffs. The past few Stanley Cup champions have all featured top-level goaltenders like Corey Crawford, Jonathan Quick and (at the time) Tim Thomas. If Gibson can hold down the net, the Ducks should be stable. This is the best season that the Ducks have put together goaltending-wise, and it will help them in this series.

That being said, the Predators did chase Crawford from the starting role in their series with the Blackhawks last season. Scott Darling stepped in and was mostly lights out against the Predators. This trend of poor performance against a goaltending duo might not work in the Predators favor.

Anaheim Special Teams vs. Nashville Special Teams

This series may come down to a tale of two power play/penalty kill units. While the Predators have been perfectly mediocre on the power play and penalty kill, the Ducks have been thriving, leading the league in both PP% and PK%. Nashville sits 10th in PP% and all the way down at 16th in PK%. The Predators are going to have to limit their penalties if they want to hang tight in this series. If they get too undisciplined and put too many players in the box, games might get out of hand very fast. Special Teams cannot win championships, but it could absolutely cost teams championships. Nashville needs to mitigate their special teams situation, or at the very least, keep themselves off the penalty kill.


 

Goaltender Comparison

Nashville:

Pekka Rinne

Games Started: 66

Wins: 34

GAA: 2.48

SV%: .908

Analysis: Rinne shook off a rough first half of the season to put together a decent campaign. He wasn’t anywhere near his Vezina Trophy-level play, but he stepped up big-time in the late portion of the year. The Predators are going to need him to be sharp against a relentless Ducks attack.

Anaheim:

John Gibson

Game Started: 38

Wins: 21

GAA: 2.07

SV%: .920

Analysis: Gibson was the winningest goaltender on the team by a mere one win, but still looked sharp this season. He did not play at all in last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, but could easily see most of the time this year. The netminder may also play a more motivated game, as he knows if he slips up, Andersen will be right there to take his job and his ice time.

Frederik Andersen

Games Started: 37

Wins: 22

GAA: 2.30

SV%: .919

Analysis: As opposed to last season, Andersen will not be the lead goaltender going into the playoffs. He will likely serve as backup to start the series. Gibson has had a slightly better season, but not by much. Andersen is a strong part of this goaltending duo, and there’s a good chance he gets a shot in net at some point in this series.


 

Biggest Question Marks

How will the Ducks fare without important players like Perron, Bieksa and Rakell?

The Ducks may have to do without key contributors for at least a chunk of the series. Generally, shorthanded teams don’t last too long in the playoffs (look at the Predators without Shea Weber last season or the Tampa Bay Lightning without Ben Bishop two years ago). Rakell is the fourth-best point getter on the team, and Perron has 20 points in 28 games with the team since coming over from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Bieksa is a key contributor on the blue line and played 71 games for the Ducks this season. None of those players are the stars of the team, so the loss may not be huge, but in tight games where any scoring help is needed, there’s no question the Ducks will feel their absences at some point.

Will James Neal and Ryan Johansen step up? 

Nashville general manager David Poile brought in Neal and Johansen for one reason: to anchor the top line on a deep playoff run. Neal played well in the playoffs last year, scoring four goals and adding an assist. Perhaps with Johansen by his side, that duo will see their production increase and lead the way on offense. Forsberg and the second line have been great, but in order to win a Cup, a team must have a top line that is clicking. The Blackhawks found that last year with Jonathan Toews’ line, and the Predators need to find that with Johansen’s line.

Can the younger Predators players handle the playoff pressure? 

Playing as a rookie in the regular season is one thing. Playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a nation-wide TV audience watching is a completely different animal. The Predators have plenty of youth on their roster, including Miikka Salomaki, Viktor Arvidsson, Colton Sissons and Austin Watson. None of them have played in a Stanley Cup Playoff game before. It will be intriguing to see how they handle the pressure and the spotlight of the playoffs. A lot of young players may lose their focus in front of 18,000 raucous opposing fans waving towels. Watch out for those four rookies. They could either make their big break, or make a costly mistake.


 

Prediction

I see this series going much like the 2011 series did. These two sides are evenly-matched, but this time, the Predators have some top-level scoring talent to counter the Ducks’s stars. This one won’t be easy, but the Predators are much more confident than they were at this time last year. If Nashville’s scorers can solve Gibson and Andersen, they should be able to take the series. Also, if the Predators’ defense can shut down Getzlaf and Perry, the offense should have a much easier time finding space and scoring goals.

Predators over Ducks in 6 games

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