They say a rivalry isn’t born until two teams meet in the playoffs.
The first-ever Nashville-Anaheim playoff series may be setting the foundation for a potent Western Conference rivalry.
After the first three games, this series could be the most evenly matched of any in this year’s first round. Although these two teams excel in different areas of the game, their strengths and deficiencies ultimately counteract and balance one another. When one team attains the upper hand, the other quickly answers — don’t expect this series to end anytime soon.
Anaheim forward Teemu Selanne scored two late second-period goals that came 30 seconds apart to erase a 2-0 Nashville lead — an advantage that the Predators established after dominating most of the first two periods. Selanne got his team back in the game when he received back-to-back passes from Corey Perry and buried two pucks on Pekka Rinne’s doorstep to tie the game. That setup a wild third period which featured back-and-forth action. Nashville cashed in again about five minutes into the third period when David Legwand took a beautiful pass from Ryan Suter that threaded the Ducks D. But the Ducks would not go away. Although Anaheim found itself playing one step behind the fiery Predators, the Ducks were able to bounce back throughout the night. About one minute after the Legwand goal, Anaheim winger Matt Beleskey deflected a shot-pass from Saku Koivu past Rinne. Once again, the Predators watched their lead evaporate.
Despite its resiliency, Anaheim was ultimately incapable of outlasting its own breakdowns; a turnover and total defensive collapse by the Ducks led to the game-winning goal by Nashville with 10 minutes left in the 3rd. For a team that secured the fourth spot in the Western Conference, the Ducks have serious defense issues that need to be addressed if they hope to win this series. Game 1 was marred by inattentive defense breakdowns that cost the Ducks an embarrassing 4-1 home loss. Anaheim rebounded in Game 2, posting a 5-3 victory, but the team’s absent defensive play allowed the Predators to climb out of a 4-1 third-period hole and make the game 4-3 (Anaheim scored an empty netter late in the third). Undoubtedly, the Ducks improved on their defense after Game 1, but some of the same problems keep cropping up around the Anaheim net: defensemen not picking up opposing players, rebounds not being cleared away, passing lanes left too wide open. Anaheim has the offensive firepower to beat Nashville, but do the Ducks have the discipline to make up for their erratic defense?
As a side note, the league suspended Anaheim forward Bobby Ryan for Games 3 and 4 for his Game 2 stomping incident. Ryan was key to Anaheim’s Game 2 victory, as he netted two goals in the contest. The Ducks felt Ryan’s Game 3 absence, and will miss him in the decisive Game 4 matchup as well.
Anaheim finds itself down 2-1 in the series, and the Predators have the chance to tighten the pressure, as a home victory in Game 4 would make the series 3-1. Look for Anaheim to focus on shoring up its defensive play; while Nashville will continue to complicate, confuse and capitalize on the Ducks’ defensive breakdowns. Game 4 will be intensely physical, as both teams want to avoid losing this critical game.