The Nashville Predators eliminated the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday night with a 2–1 win to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Nashville’s Colin Wilson struck first, six minutes into the game on a nifty backhander. Later in the period, the Predators’ Paul Gaustad tipped in a blast from Shea Weber to double their lead. Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne fought off a spirited Ducks’ attack in the second period before Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler converted on a one-timer early in the third. But Rinne came up with several huge saves in the final minutes to hang on for the series-clinching win, the first Game 7 victory in Nashville franchise history.
The Predators now advance to the second round, where they will face the San Jose Sharks, who defeated the Los Angeles Kings in five games.
Here are three thoughts on the series clincher:
Rinne comes up big for Preds
The best players show up in the biggest games, and Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne came up big in Game 7. Anaheim outshot the Preds 37–20, but Rinne only allowed one goal and held off a furious Ducks’ attack for the final two periods to give Nashville the win.
In the series, Rinne was inconsistent at best, as he started off strong—holding the Ducks to just four goals on 58 shots in Games 1 and 2, but struggled in the next three games, posting a meagre .875 save percentage. But for Games 6 and 7, with the Preds fighting off elimination, he stepped up, stopping 26 of 27 shots prior to his effort in Wednesday’s game.
When all was said and done, he will be remembered in this series for his Game 7 performance.
Ducks’ Game 7 failures continue
Anaheim’s Game 7 struggles on home ice were once again on display. For the fourth straight year, they lost the do-or-die game at Honda Center (to Detroit 2013, Los Angeles 2014, Chicago 2015) after holding a 3–2 series lead. For the fourth straight year, they fell behind early in the game but couldn't fully recover. Anaheim’s star scorer Corey Perry led the team with 34 goals this season, but his campaign will be remembered for his dismal performance during this series in which he failed to find the back of the net while his line was outscored 8-1 at even-play. The 30-year-old attempted just over eight shots in each game. On Wednesday, he mustered only six, four of which came in the final minutes.
After falling just one game short of the final round last year, Anaheim's season began with a “Stanley Cup or bust” mentality. But the Ducks will have a bitter taste in their mouths for the spring and summer after falling in the first round despite recovering from a horrendous start to become one of the league's best teams during the second half. Though coach Bruce Boudreau has won four straight Pacific Division titles, the Ducks' Game 7 failures aren’t going over well in Orange County, leaving the question if the same man will be behind the bench in October.
The good news for Nashville is that two of those three teams that downed the Ducks (‘14 Los Angeles, ‘15 Chicago) went on to win the Cup, and the Preds showed the same type of resiliency and quick-attack under pressure that the Kings and Blackhawks showed against Anaheim.
Preds could make deep run
Nashville may not have a go-to scorer like some of the other teams that are left in the playoffs, but the Preds showed against the Ducks that they do have depth. Through the seven games, 10 different Nashville players found the back of the net.
After surviving Anaheim's early push, the Preds were able to take the Honda Center crowd out of the game with two opening period goals. Still, against their next opponent, San Jose (Game 1 is Friday at 10:30 p.m. ET), they will need bigger contributions from some of their stars. Forwards Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen only scored one goal apiece vs. Anaheim, while Wilson and James Neal each tallied two. But if Nashville can get more out of its top guys, and the expected performance by the league’s best defensive duo (Shea Weber and Roman Josi), the Preds could be a formidable threat to come out of the Western Conference. They certainly won't lack for confidence, having twice survived elimination against a formidable foe in the first round,