The Nashville Predators took a commanding 2-0 series lead with a 3–2 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday.
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.
The Predators completed their California trip in perfect fashion with a 3–2 win over the Anaheim Ducks in Game 2 on Sunday night to take a commanding 2–0 series lead, Nashville's first such lead in franchise history. Now, the Preds head back to the Music City with a chance to complete the upset sweep.
After Anaheim’s Andrew Cogliano struck first on a breakaway halfway through the opening period, Nashville’s Mattias Ekholm responded in the final minute. During the second period, Nashville opened up the game, and the series for that matter, when Mike Smith scored on a one-timer off a pass from Filip Forsberg, and struck again in the final minute of the period when Shea Weber scored on a power play goal. Nate Thompson scored Anaheim's second goal with just under three minutes remaining in the game, but it was too little, too late, for the Ducks.
Game 3 in Nashville is set for Tuesday night. Here are three thoughts on Sunday's game:
Nashville takes complete control
The Predators are firmly in the driver's seat of this series heading into Game 3 because they are beating the Ducks at their own game. Anaheim has established an identity as a gritty, physical team, and yet it’s the Predators who have been taking the body and outworking the Ducks through two games. Nashville is winning every loose puck battle and finishing its hits while the Ducks just have no answer for any of it. Anaheim's star scorer, Corey Perry, has yet to find the back of the net, and other key players, such as Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler, scored in Game 1 but neither could generate anything in Game 2.
Also, how about the superior play of Forsberg? The 21-year-old has been the most valuable player in the series thus far. After scoring the game-winner in Game 1, he was credited with assists on the Predators’ second and third goals on Sunday night.
On a related note, remember how excited we all were for a possible rematch of the 2014 series between the Los Angeles Kings and the Ducks? Both Southern California teams have fallen into an 0–2 deficit on home ice, and while that second-round series could still happen, it’s not looking likely right now, as both have huge holes to climb out of on the road.
Ducks got few breaks
Aside from its own play on Sunday night, Anaheim also got no help whatsoever from the officials. Nashville had five power-play attempts, converting one, while Anaheim, which had the league’s top power-play unit this season, had zero power-play attempts. There were several instances of the refs letting some seemingly obvious calls go, including when Nashville’s James Neal whacked Ducks goalie John Gibson in the mask with his stick after the play was blown dead.
Special teams play—or lack thereof—is by no means the sole reason the Ducks find themselves down two games. But they have killed opponents with their power play this season, and they could not buy one on Sunday night.
And even though the Ducks also had the league’s top penalty kill this season, a team like Nashville will make them pay when they are shorthanded as often as they were on Sunday night.
Time for Ducks to change goalies?
Despite Gibson's shaky Game 1 effort when he allowed three goals, Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau decided to stick with the 22-year-old even though he has a capable backup in Frederik Andersen. Before Game 2, Boudreau was asked about that decision and said, “He knows I’ve got faith in him. The one thing about John and Freddie is very rarely do they have back-to-back subpar games. During the course of the three years that Gibby’s been up and down and the two years that Freddie’s been here, if they have something of what they would classify as a subpar game, the next game is usually very good.”
But Gibson wasn’t “very good,” like Boudreau expected. Even though he may be the Ducks' goalie of the future, Gibson struggled again in Game 2. Meanwhile, Andersen has the proven playoff experience, as he was the Ducks’ netminder during their run to Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals last season. The Ducks, now in desperation mode, are just trying to force the series back to Orange County.
No team has won the Cup using a goalie tandem since the 1971-72 Boston Bruins, but now may be the time for Anaheim to to try to buck the trend. Maybe switching up the man between the pipes is the answer to getting the Ducks back in this series.