For the first time in franchise history Nashville finished a playoff series and came out on the winning side. Although the series was fairly evenly matched, the Predators showed they were the better team, as they won four of six games against Anaheim. Despite coming back from 1-0 and 2-1 series deficits, the Ducks couldn’t solve a few fundamental problems that haunted them on the ice (and probably will during the offseason). Here are a few key points to take from the series:
1: Goaltending is Key in the Playoffs
Okay, so this is fairly axiomatic, but nevertheless, it deserves mention. The Predators and Ducks were two very different teams when it came to goaltending during this series. Despite Jonas Hiller battling a case of vertigo throughout the end of the season, the Ducks managed to scramble into the playoffs and clinch the fourth seed. The Predators on the other hand had a healthy Pekka Rinne to man the pipes, and this was crucial. Although Rinne struggled at certain moments of the series, overall he was reliable and this allowed the rest of his teammates to focus on their game plan. The Ducks goaltending was a different story. Without Jonas Hiller, the Ducks started Dan Ellis in Game 1 — Ellis didn’t even make it beyond the end of the first game. Anaheim replaced Ellis with Ray Emery in the 3rd period and Emery played the rest of the series. Although Emery was fairly solid in net, he allowed a few key goals that allowed the series to slowly slip away from the Ducks. The two most notable goals came at the end of Game 5. With Anaheim holding a 3-2 lead with under 40 seconds left in the 3rd period, the Predators somehow found the back of the net with a shot from the point. Emery appeared to be screened on the play, so blame can also be dished towards the Anaheim defense, but that is a critical goal that can radically change the momentum of a series. That goal allowed the Predators to stay alive and push the game into OT, where Nashville won the game. There’s no room for ifs and buts in playoff hockey, but it’s easy to say the Ducks would have had a commanding advantage of the series had they held on in the closing seconds of Game 5. An interesting statistic I recently heard shows that approximately 83% of teams that win Game 5 when a series is tied at 2 apiece ultimately win the series. Chalk the Preds into that category.
2: Team Defense Cannot be Underestimated
Call me old fashioned, but I like to believe that it’s team defense and solid goaltending that wins Stanley Cups; the Nashville/Anaheim series was a good example of this. Despite having one of the (if not the) best first lines in the NHL, the Ducks couldn’t overcome their own defensive woes during this quarterfinals series. Too often — especially early in the series — the Ducks scrambled, left opposing players wide open, or neglected to clear rebounds out from the front of the net. The Predators certainly had their own lapse of defensive play during the series, but Nashville remained fairly consistent.
3: Resiliency and Luck Must be on Your Side
Nashville’s Game 5 victory showed that a team must have resiliency and luck at times to win a series. Despite falling behind twice in the 3rd period of Game 5, Nashville was able to battle through and tie the game twice in the final period. I can’t think of a better show of resiliency than that. In a sense, that period nearly summed up the entire series: Nashville’s grit, physicality and determination ultimately outdid that of the opponent. These are three reliable categories that can win a game, regardless of the state of a series. Chicago’s grit and determination has allowed them to pull through and possibly pull off one of the biggest upsets in NHL playoff history. Grit and determination can certainly help, but occasionally, like the goal with 35 seconds left in the 3rd period, you need the bounces (and a little luck) to go your way.