Against all odds, the Nashville Predators were able to take down the Pacific Division-winning Anaheim Ducks in seven games to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals.
Nashville defeated Anaheim, 2-1, in the franchise’s first ever Game 7 on Wednesday evening. The only way the Predators were going to get past the Ducks was if goaltender Pekka Rinne was at the top of his game, and he was just that. In Games 6 and 7, Rinne combined to make 62 saves and allowed just two goals.
Preds’ captain Shea Weber and winger Colin Wilson pace the team in scoring with two goals and three assists each. Weber is expected to play at an elite level in the postseason, but Wilson is not, especially after a disappointing regular season scoring six goals and 24 points in 64 games. Wilson’s offense has been a pleasant surprise for Nashville who was desperately searching for offense against an elite Ducks defense.
Now, Anaheim is in the rear-view mirror, and the Predators will remain in the California to take on the San Jose Sharks in Game 1 on Friday. Nashville has never advanced past the second round in franchise history.
“I feel like they provide kind of a similar challenge as Anaheim,” Rinne told The Tennessean. “Their top players are some of the top players in the league and really dangerous individuals. Their power play’s really good. Very similar to me, at least.”
San Jose will have a week of rest after knocking off the Los Angeles Kings in five games. Nashville and San Jose have played each other in the playoffs, twice, in 2006 and 2007, and the Sharks came out victorious both times in five games.
The Sharks have four players — Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Marc-Edouard Vlasic — who have played versus the Predators in the playoffs before, and Weber is the only current member of the Preds to have played in those series.
Nashville won two of three games against San Jose in the regular season, and backup goalie Carter Hutton appeared in the lone loss.
Defenseman Brent Burns paces the Sharks in scoring with two goals and eight points, and Pavelski leads the team in goals with five. Goaltender Martin Jones has a 2.18 goals-against average and a .912 save-percentage.
How do the Predators Win?
Beside the obvious reliance on Rinne, the Predators’ offense needs to contribute more. Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Craig Smith each only have a goal to their name. Forsberg was the team’s leading scorer in the regular season with 33 goals and 64 points, so more will be expected from him if Nashville wants to continue their run in the playoffs.
Additionally, Nashville’s power play has been a brutal 1-for-26 (3.8-percent). Credit Anaheim’s elite penalty killing, which ranked first in the league in the regular season, but Nashville needs to be better against San Jose. The Sharks ranked 21st (80.5-percent) in penalty killing in the regular season and are 3-for-14 (78.6-percent) in the playoffs, thus far.
Though the Predators were able to evade an early first-round exit despite scoring struggles, they may not be so fortunate against the Sharks. It is time for the key players to step up.