Nashville Predators Filip Forsberg of Sweden tries to push the puck past St. Louis Blues goaltender Jake Allen as Blues Alex Pietrangelo (27) applies pressure in the third period at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on April 28, 2017. File photo by BIll Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Having exorcized their Game 7 demons against the Edmonton Oilers, the Anaheim Ducks look to exact revenge against the team that ended their postseason hopes a year ago.
The Nashville Predators roll into Honda Center on Friday rested and riding high after venturing further in the Stanley Cup playoffs than any team in franchise history.
Anaheim and Nashville meet in the best-of-seven Western Conference finals with the winner advancing to play for the Stanley Cup. The series is a rematch of their Western Conference quarterfinal matchup last season that the Predators won 4-3.
The Ducks snapped a four-season Game 7 losing streak Wednesday with a 2-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers that was their most complete performance of the 2017 postseason.
Despite surrendering a fluke goal in the first five minutes of the deciding game, the Ducks controlled play throughout and Nick Ritchie's third period goal sent them to the conference final for the first time since 2013.
The Ducks won the regular season series with Nashville 2-1, winning both games in Anaheim -- 6-1 on Oct. 26 and 4-3 in a shootout March 26, while the Predators took the lone contest at Bridgestone Arena 5-0 on Nov. 12.
Both teams enter the series with sterling postseason records as Nashville is 8-2 and Anaheim 8-3. Each team executed a four-game sweep in the first round.
This matchup will likely be closer in style to the Predators grinding victory over the St. Louis Blues than the up-tempo style that was the norm in Anaheim's win over Edmonton.
Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf has fashioned a strong postseason campaign, placing him among the favorites to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoffs MVP should Anaheim keep going. Getzlaf has registered eight goals and seven assists in 11 games with a plus-9 rating and a 54.6 faceoff win percentage.
As for the revenge factor, Ducks center Ryan Kesler admitted that payback for the elimination at the hands of the Predators last season will add to their motivation.
"They are the team that put us out last season," Kesler said. "To us, winning this series means a little bit more. But we are all playing for the same thing and at this point it is about getting four wins before they do. It will be a tough road but we are up to the challenge."
Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle sees a big obstacle, literally and figuratively, in Nashville's Pekka Rinne. The 6-foot-5 Finnish goaltender is a primary reason for the Predators being one of four remaining teams in the chase for the Stanley Cup.
"Nashville possesses a different type of goaltender in Rinne from the sense that he almost plays like a defenseman," Carlyle said. "Rinne loves to handle the puck and if you do not dump the puck in effectively he is going to be another defenseman back there. Their success has come from fast starts and scoring quickly to put pressure on their opponents and we must avoid that."
Coupled with their defense, Rinne is demonstrating the form that made him a two-time finalist for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the best goaltender as voted by general managers. With a solid defensive scheme limiting chances in front of him, Rinne has posted a .951 save percentage and 1.37 goals-against average, numbers far above his career average.
With four days rest after the St. Louis victory, Rinne said he is eager to appear in his first Western Conference finals.
"I'm anxious to get back out on the ice," Rinne said. "It's definitely a different feeling, never having gone this far in a season but it's a great feeling."
With a defensive corps that compares favorably to Anaheim's depth, it's no surprise that three of the top five scorers for Nashville are defensemen. The less-heralded Ryan Ellis is tied with center Ryan Johansen for the team lead in points with nine (four goals, five assists) with Roman Josi (eight) and P.K. Subban (seven) also big contributors.
A confident Johansen said he feels that the Predators journey through the postseason prepared them well for either team that emerged to face them.
"We faced speed and skill when we played Chicago and a heavier team in St. Louis especially with their defensive corps," Johansen said. "There won't be any surprises and we feel we can handle anybody."