Get all of Nick Forrester’s columns as soon as they’re published. Download the new Sports Illustrated app (iOS or Android) and personalize your experience by following your favorite teams and SI writers.
Nashville’s series against Anaheim may have been the last playoff series to start this year, but the Predators wasted no time getting their playoff run rolling, as James Neal struck just 35 seconds into the game in the Predators’ 3–2 Game 1 win over the Ducks.
After Neal’s goal, Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf tied the game near the end of the first period on a 5-on-3 power-play goal. Ryan Kesler then scored in the opening minute of the second period to give the Ducks a 2–1 lead, but Nashville’s Colin Wilson tied the game on a one-timer just a few minutes later. Filip Forsberg put the Predators up 3–2 on a shot off an Anaheim defender halfway through the third for the game-winning goal.
The Predators take a 1–0 lead in the best-of-seven series, and the teams will meet again at Honda Center on Sunday night.
Here are three thoughts on Friday's game:
Defensive strength vs. defensive depth
Nashville boasts arguably the league’s top defensive duo in Roman Josi and Shea Weber, while Anaheim has arguably the league’s top six defenders, as the Ducks were first in the league in goals-against this season. This series promises to be a great defensive battle, and Friday night did not disappoint. From the big hits to diving saves to shots from the point, both team’s defenses showed they are capable of carrying the team. The Predators’ defense kept the Ducks from taking a shot on net for 13 minutes at the end of the second period and into the third period. For the Ducks, their defensemen may be banged up (Kevin Bieksa did not play and is day-to-day, while Josh Manson left the game after a hit in the first period), but it just seems to be next man up for them.
Friday’s game was a chess match as Anaheim tried to take away Weber and Josi, while Nashville looked to win on some individual matchups against Ducks defensemen (notably Shea Theodore, who played most of the season in the AHL and was making his playoffs debut).
It’s cliche to say that defense wins championships, but this defensive battle will be one of the best in the first round, with either team having an edge in that department in the later rounds.
Anaheim has a big advantage down the middle
One of the bright sides for Anaheim from Friday’s game is the Ducks’ clear advantage down the middle. The lack of a true No. 1 centerman has been a huge frustration for Nashville and a major reason why the Predators traded defenseman Seth Jones to Columbus for Ryan Johansen earlier this year. But on Friday night, Johansen was almost nonexistent, as Kesler, one of the best shutdown centers in the league, completely locked him down. If Johansen isn’t able to win some individual battles against Kesler, then it could be a long series for him and the Predators.
Nashville will need to come up with a way to stop the Ducks’ depth down the middle, or dominate on the wings like it did Friday.
Ducks go with Gibson in net ... for now
The big question for Anaheim entering the playoffs was who the Ducks would start in net with two capable netminders in Frederik Andersen (36 starts; 22-9-7, 2.30, .919) and John Gibson (38; 21-13-4, 2.07, .920). But Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau, who joked earlier in the week that he would flip a coin to decide, elected to go with Gibson for Game 1. After his shaky start where he gave up a goal just 35 seconds into the game, Gibson stopped 29 of 32 shots, but allowed a soft goal in the third as well.
Now the question is if Boudreau will stick with Gibson or alternate between the two and use Andersen. Historically speaking, it’s not wise to use two netminders in the playoffs, as no team since the 1971–72 Boston Bruins has won the Cup with the goalies splitting starts. But if there’s one coach to try to buck a trend, it’s Boudreau.
We’ll just have to wait until Sunday’s Game 2 to find out.