The Nashville Predators’ 2-0 series lead over the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs should come as no surprise. However, the way the Predators reached that advantage has turned some heads.
In Game 1, Nashville jumped out to a fast start thanks to James Neal’s goal 35 seconds into the game. The Predators rallied after giving up the next two goals to net the last two scores. The wins have helped Nashville come away with home-ice advantage after a pair of 3-2 victories.
Coach Peter Laviolette’s club effectively changed gears and used a combination of speed and grind-it-out play to earn the opening two games. This change of pace flustered the Ducks and showed that the Predators won’t be a pushed over.
The Predators took a lot of the principles from the series opener and used them in Game 2.
There’s usually a feeling-out period in the first game of a postseason series where teams try to figure out a way to break through. However, Nashville wanted to skip that process and get on the board.
The Predators moved quickly and actually had a 3-on-0 with Ducks’ goalie John Gibson, but a pinching Shea Weber couldn’t put it home. Neal eventually deposited the feed from Ryan Johansen for his first of the series.
Nashville then used its speed to turn chances at the Anaheim end into goals. The markers by Colin Wilson and Filip Forsberg came from turnovers. The Wilson goal came after Ryan Ellis got quickly up the wing and threw the puck out front.
The last goal of Game 1 summed up what the Predators have done all series. Forsberg created a turnover and quickly got into the Anaheim end. The young Swede passed the puck out front looking for a streaking Craig Smith, but it bounced off an Anaheim defenseman and past an outstretched Gibson for the game-winning goal.
The Ducks are a fast team, but the Predators can speed it up when needed. Speed being deployed at the right time is one reason that Nashville is up 2-0 in the series.
Nashville Predators Turn Back the Clock
The Predators do play a faster pace under Laviollete than they used to when now-Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz was in charge. The defense jumps into the rush to be a part of the offense. However, Nashville channeled some of the old defensive style as it held Anaheim without a shot for nearly 14 minutes between the end of the second and start of the third periods in Game 1.
That harkened back to the days where the Predators would win games in low-scoring affairs where the defense would stymie the faster team. The Ducks like to play up-tempo, but had a hard time managing shots on Pekka Rinne for good portions of the game.
A team has to win any way it can in the postseason, and Nashville did that in the first two games. Anaheim wants to play at a fast pace, but it’s been tough sledding. The Ducks got off to a fast start, but the Predators were able to scratch out another 3-2 win.
Many predicted that Anaheim would move on and face their rivals, the Los Angeles Kings, in the next round. That could still happen, but the Predators have made their mark so far on the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Don’t be surprised if Nashville collects its second series win over Anaheim.
Covered hockey since attending SUNY Oswego in Upstate New York in the early 2000s. Has written about college, major junior and professional hockey for the last five years.
Resides in Watertown, NY.