The first round of the NHL playoffs comes to a close tonight as the Anaheim Ducks host the Nashville Predators in Game 7 (10 PM ET; NBCSN, TVAS, SN, FS-W, FS-TN). The winner moves on to face the San Jose Sharks. The loser heads home to face a summer of regret. Here are five points to ponder ahead of this contest:
Corey Perry's dry hands
Maybe GM Doug Armstrong was on to something when he left this Team Canada mainstay off the initial World Cup roster. It's not simply that Perry hasn't yet found the back of the net (he does have four assists). It's that he's been a negative-impact player through the first six games.
The Ducks have been outscored 7-1 at evens with Perry on the ice, and that's a fairly accurate reflection of what he's brought to the table. Perry seems a step slow wherever he is on the ice and his involvement on both sides of the puck has diminished.
Give credit to Predators coach Peter Laviolette and his game plan. When you see that Perry is attempting just over eight shot attempts per 60 minutes in this series, barely half his career average, it's clear that Nashville's defensive efforts are having an effect.
It's also possible that Perry's linemates, Nate Thompson and Rickard Rakell, aren't bringing out his best. Or it could be an ill-timed slump. Perry's gone through dry spells like this before. He endured an 11-game goalless streak to start the season, and was blanked in a seven-game loss to the Red Wings back in 2013.
It's possible he'll be reunited with long-time running buddy Ryan Getzlaf tonight in hopes that will provide a spark. Or coach Bruce Boudreau could let things ride. Either way, the spotlight's shining on Perry in Game 7. He'll have an impact on the result, one way or the other.
Pekka and Hyde
Pekka Rinne's inconsistency has been an ongoing concern for the Preds all season. No surprise then that it's carried over to the playoffs.
The veteran was sharp in Games 1 and 2 in Anaheim, holding the Ducks to four goals on 58 shots and leading Nashville to a 2-0 series lead. He was dreadful in the next three, allowing 11 goals in total while posting a sub-.875 save percentage in each start.
But then it was All-Star Pekka to the rescue in Game 6. He stopped 26 of 27, including a point-blank save on Perry late that preserved the win.
That game reminded everyone that Rinne is capable of a next-level performance. He'll need to deliver another one in Game 7. Anything less and the Preds are done.
This will be the first Game 7 in franchise history for the Preds, but it's familiar territory for the Ducks. Painfully familiar.
For the fourth season in a row, Anaheim failed to finish a 3-2 series lead on the road, leading to a Game 7 on home ice. Despite the apparent advantage that would present, it hasn't gone well for the Ducks. Detroit knocked them out in the first round with a 3–2 win in 2013. The following year, Los Angeles ended their season in the second round with a 6–2 romp. Last year, Chicago eliminated them with a 5–3 victory in the Western Conference Finals.
That's three years in a row that the Ducks have forced their fans to watch another team celebrate a Game 7 win at the Honda Center. Sure, those were good teams that finished them off. Two went on to win the Stanley Cup. But it says something about this team's core that it can't get the job done when the odds should be in their favor. The pressure is on this group to change the narrative.
The Preds have been an offense-by-committee team since their inception, so it's no shock that their goal scoring has been spread over nine players during the first six games. Or that of their three multiple-goal scorers, two (Shea Weber and Mattias Ekholm) skate on the back end.
But Game 7 demands some big-boy hockey, and that means Nashville's best players have to be their best players. James Neal has two goals in the series, but hasn't had the impact he could. The same can be said for Filip Forsberg (one goal), Ryan Johansen (one) and Colin Wilson (one). Not that goal scoring is the only measure of a player's contributions, but that's the stat that's going to decide which team moves on.
The Ducks have more weapons. Even in a tied series, they've managed to outscore the Preds 17-12. That margin of nearly a full goal per game doesn't bode well for Nashville. The Preds could find the edge on the blueline, but their forwards have been riding their coattails all series. Time for the guys up front to start lighting the lamp.
Bruce Boudreau's future
It's not just the organization that's fighting history. Anaheim's coach has been behind the bench for seven Games 7 in his career and has come out on the short end six times. More painful: All six losses have come on home ice. And in each of his past three Game 7 defeats, his team first blew a chance to clinch in Game 6.
There's been speculation that this series would serve as a referendum on Boudreau's future with the Ducks, that losing in the first round again would require a change in command. That's not necessarily the case. GM Bob Murray has shown patience with both his players and his coaching staff, holding the line even as the team scored a total of 10 goals while getting off to an awful 1-7-2 start. But this team wasn't built to make the playoffs or win Pacific Division titles. These Ducks are expected to compete for the Stanley Cup. If he can't get them over the hump here, it might be the end of the line for Boudreau.