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After the road team won the first four games of the series, Anaheim chalked up a win on home ice, as the Ducks won their third straight game of the series against Nashville, 5-2, on Saturday night.
After a scoreless first period, Nashville’s Ryan Johansen finally broke through near the end of the second when he beat Anaheim goalie Frederik Andersen in the top corner at 14:13. But Ducks’ winger David Perron answered just seconds later, followed by another Anaheim goal from Ryan Garbutt at the 16:23 mark. Sami Vatanen gave the Ducks a 4-1 lead when blasted a shot past Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne on a breakaway midway through the third. Nashville’s Miikka Salomaki answered with just under seven minutes remaining, but after Nashville’s Mike Ribeiro was called for a slash at 16;26, Anaheim’s Cam Fowler connected on the power play. Ryan Kesler added an empty-netter to close the scoring.
Game 6 is set for Monday night in Nashville.
Here are three thoughts on Saturday:
Anaheim's unlikely saviors
After losing the first two games of the series on home ice, Anaheim has put Nashville on the brink of elimination with three straight wins. When teams are tied 2–2 in best-of-7 playoffs series, as was the case in this series, the Game 5 winner holds an all-time series record of 189-52 (78.4%), according to Elias Sports.
What’s better yet for the Ducks is they aren’t winning with their usual stars of Kesler, Ryan Getzlaf or Corey Perry, who is still scoreless in their series, but rather the likes of Perron, Garbutt and Andrew Cogliano, who is tied with a team-high two goals and has a team-high four points in this series.
While Anaheim’s three straight wins after losing the first two games on home ice is impressive, the Ducks are not in the clear. In 2014 when they faced Los Angeles in the second round, Anaheim fell down 0–2 on home ice, only to come back and win three straight games. But the Kings took Games 6 and 7 en route to winning the Stanley Cup. Like that ‘14 Kings squad, these Predators have a strong defense in Shea Weber and Roman Josi, a solid goaltender in Rinne and opportunistic scorers like Mike Fisher and Ryan Johansen. But it’s now do or die time for Nashville, and its veteran leaders, who have been shut down the last several games, will need to step up.
Andersen shows Ducks he’s the man
Entering the playoffs, the big question for Anaheim was who would be their goaltender in the playoffs, as Andersen and John Gibson showed during the regular season that they were each capable of backstopping this team. The Ducks initially went with Gibson for Games 1 and 2, but the 22-year-old allowed three goals in each, both resulting in Preds’ wins. Anaheim switched to Andersen for Game 3, and since then he’s that proved he’s still the go-to guy in Orange County.
After shutting out the Preds in Game 3, Anderson made 30 saves and only allowed one goal in Game 4. He continued his strong performance in Game 5 by stopping 27 of Nashville’s 29 shots. The first 30 minutes of game were mostly controlled by the Predators, but Andersen kept the Ducks in it until they found their footing, as he came up with several big saves, such as when he robbed Nashville defenseman Roman Josi off a one-timer.
While Gibson may be the Ducks goalie of the future, as the organization signed him to a three-year, $6.9 million contract last summer, Andersen has the proven playoff experience, as he led the Ducks to Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals last season. Combine that with his success in the last three games, and the Dane is clearly Anaheim’s best option in between the pipes.
Preds shutting down NHL's top power play
One of the key factors in Anaheim’s resurgence this season was having both the league’s top power play and penalty killing units. The Ducks are the first club to have them since the 1984-85 New York Islanders. While Anaheim's penalty kill has continued to shine in the playoffs, the power play, which converted at 23.1% in the regular season, has been dismal against the Predators. The Ducks are now just 2 of 19 with the man advantage after going 1-for-7 on Saturday.
One of the problems for the Ducks in this series has been getting the opportunity to play with the man-advantage in the first place. Through the first four games, the Ducks were shorthanded 19 times, compared to only 12 for Nashville. But Saturday was a different story, as the Ducks were only shorthanded once, compared to Nashville’s seven times, three of which came in the opening period.
The Ducks will take the win in a pivotal Game 5 even with the power play struggles. But if they hope to not just win this series, but make a deep playoff run, they will need to get back to their regular season form with the man advantage.