Nashville is officially a hockey town! The Predators have turned that bastion of country music and college football into a hockey-mad city as they have reached the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. The Preds take on Pacific Division champion Anaheim in Game 1 starting Friday night. The Ducks are slight series favourites on Sports Interaction NHL odds.
Nashville Predators at Anaheim Ducks, Game 1
Series lines: Anaheim -120, Nashville +100
Game 1 lines: Ducks -115, Predators -105
Game 1 total: 5.5
Date: Friday, May 12, 9 p.m. ET
Location: Honda Center, Anaheim
Much like with the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference, I’ve been wrong on Nashville in both playoff series so far. The Predators were +180 series underdogs in the first round against the Chicago Blackhawks, but Nashville became the first No. 8 seed to sweep a No. 1 in Stanley Cup playoff history.
The Preds were -139 Sports Interaction series favorites in the conference semifinals against St. Louis, but I liked the Blues there because they had the NHL’s best record since Mike Yeo took over as head coach for the fired Ken Hitchcock and because St. Louis also had home-ice advantage. Alas, Nashville stole Game 1 on the road and didn’t lose at home once in the series, closing out the Blues 3-1 last Sunday in Game 6. It was the Predators’ ninth straight playoff win in Nashville going back to last postseason.
It was the Predators’ fourth attempt to reach the conference finals. The 18 completed seasons before the Predators’ first conference finals appearance – they debuted in 1998-99 — rank as the third-most before a franchise’s first visit to that round. The record is 32 seasons by the Arizona Coyotes before they reached the 2012 Western Conference Finals.
A top Conn Smythe Trophy candidate thus far is Predators goalie Pekka Rinne, who had a moderately disappointing regular season by his usual high standards. Rinne has been spectacular in these playoffs in leading all goaltenders with a 1.37 goals-against average and .951 save percentage.
Led by former Montreal Canadiens standout P.K. Subban, the Predators’ defensemen combined for 17 points (6G, 11 A) in the Blues series. Subban, who has seven total points in these playoffs, has played a big role in helping shut down the likes of the Blues’ Vladimir Tarasenko and Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. There was some bad news for the Predators in the Blues series as forward Kevin Fiala broke his left leg in Game 1 and is done for the postseason. Fiala had 11 goals in 54 regular-season games and two in these playoffs.
Nashville lost two of three to Anaheim in the regular season, one in a shootout. Rinne was 1-1-1 with a 2.63 GAA and .919 save percentage. James Neal (2G, 1 A) and Filip Forsberg (2G, 1A) each led Nashville with three points. Subban had an assist.
The Predators are coached by Randy Carlyle, who led the Ducks to their only Stanley Cup in 2006-07. Nashville is +300 to win the Cup.
From a personal standpoint, I was rooting for Edmonton to beat Anaheim in their Western Conference semifinal series because the Oilers play such an entertaining style of hockey. From a professional standpoint, I had to back the Ducks because I predicted they would advance.
The Ducks did just that with a 2-1 home victory on Wednesday, ending a streak of five straight Game 7 losses for the franchise and four in a row at home. Nick Ritchie scored the tiebreaking goal at 3:21 of the third and John Gibson made 23 saves a game after being pulled in the Ducks’ 7-1 loss in Edmonton. Wednesday was Gibson’s best game of the postseason and he’s 7-3 with a 2.80 GAA and .908 save percentage overall. Ryan Getzlaf leads the Ducks with 15 points (8G, 7A) in the postseason and is plus-9.
Anaheim won its first-ever playoff series after trailing 2-0. The Ducks are now 22-12 since the start of the 2015 postseason, the best winning percentage in the NHL (.647). The Ducks are in the West Finals for the second time in three years (lost to Chicago in 2015).
Two injury notes for the Ducks. Winger Patrick Eaves, the team’s big acquisition at the trade deadline, missed the final four games of the Oilers series with a lower-body injury. Eaves had 32 regular-season goals combined with Dallas and Anaheim. Defenseman Kevin Bieksa hasn’t played since Game 1 vs. the Oilers due to a lower-body injury but appears well ahead of Eaves in terms of recovery. Bieksa averaged 18:45 of ice time during the season with three goals and 11 assists.
This is a chance for payback for the Ducks are they lost to Nashville in seven games in the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs. Anaheim dropped the first two and last two of the series, including Game 7 at home 2-1. Rinne had 36 saves in that one. That loss got Coach Bruce Boudreau fired.
In winning two of three vs. Nashville in the regular season, Getzlaf (1G, 2A in two games), and defensemen Cam Fowler (3A) and Sami Vatanen (3A) led the Ducks with three points each. Gibson was 1-1-0 with a 3.09 GAA and .894 save percentage. The teams last played on March 7 in Anaheim, a 4-3 Ducks shootout win. The first two games were blowouts.
The Ducks are +225 to win their second Cup.
Predators vs. Ducks Predictions
This is one of those rest vs. rust arguments. The Predators were rolling, so will that mini-bye week slow them down? The Ducks, meanwhile, are playing just 48 hours after eliminating the Oilers in a draining series. I’m done picking against Nashville as it has the clear edge in goal here and is 2-0 all-time vs. the Ducks in the playoffs.
Nashville has dropped five straight regular-season games in Anaheim but won three there in last year’s playoffs. Predators take Game 1 and the series in seven.