Saturday in Anaheim, the Ducks failed to score on power play opportunities in the first period, failed to jump on the Nashville Predators who entered the game without top line center and leading scorer Ryan Johansen, and second line center Mike Fisher.
The Predators’ team game is strong, with no passengers, just drivers. It took a while for the Predators to gain confidence, but stand strong they did.
“We had guys show up and play extremely hard today and hard fought,” said Predators coach Peter Laviolette.
Depth charge Colton Sisson stook Johansen’s place on the top line, with rookie Pontus Aberg, who scored the game-winner, on the right wing. Vern Fiddler was pressed into action on a line with usual first-liner Viktor Arvidsson, and rookie Frederick Gaudreau, a 24-year-old seeing action in his first playoff game, just the tenth of his career, centering Craig Smith and James Neal.
For their part, the Ducks had to overcome the late scratch of Rickard Rakell, their leading goal scorer in the regular season. With the ongoing injury to Patrick Eaves, there was no shortage of shortages.
“That’s playoff hockey,” explained Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf.
P.K. Subban of the Preds was pragmatic, and guarded in his optimism, with his club heading home just one win from its first Stanley Cup final.
“There’s still a lot of hockey left to be played, and the momentum seems to shift, and the emotions seem to shift a lot,” said Subban. “I mean, you think back to last game, we had an opportunity in our building, being up 2-1, to make the series 3-1, and it didn’t happen for us. We fought back, extended the game into overtime and then lost in overtime . . . We’re going to enjoy the win tonight and get ready for the next game.”
Anaheim had two power play opportunities in the first ten minutes of the game but failed to produce. As the Preds found their way through the second and third periods, gaining steam, Anaheim’s failure to score in the first period proved fatal.
“I didn’t think our first power play gave us any energy,” said Ducks coach Randy Carlyle, “But after that, I thought the next power play we had all kinds of looks. We had chances. And we didn’t have any finish.”
Ducks goalie John Gibson suffered a lower-body injury of some type in the first period and was relieved by Jon Bernier to start the second.
“(Gibson) made the statement he’d be in the next game for us when canvassed him after the game,” Carlyle explained. “We can’t risk him. Maybe that’s the adrenaline and whatnot. We’ll do an assessment tomorrow.”
While the Predators are a fast club, the Ducks make inroads by a possession and passing game. They seemed out of sync.
“I didn’t think we were as clean as we’ve been. I think — again, that’s when you talk about sharing the puck. You make the first pass, and it’s in the feet. Or the second pass isn’t where we’re accustomed to putting the puck. Everybody has the same type of schemes as you work your way out of your puck recovery situation, a little bump in the middle, a bump up the wall — all those kinds of things where we didn’t seem to execute the level that we’ve been accustomed to.”
With so much written about the Ryan Kesler/Ryan Johansen matchup, it was ironic that on Saturday, the matchups mattered little, and the Predators’ ability to keep their pace throughout earned them the extra goal they needed in what would end up a 3-1 win.
“We (didn’t) have the last change, (didn’t) have the matchup,” said Laviolette. “We needed to put in a lineup that could compete, all four lines be able to go out there and play against any one of their lines.”
Game 6 is Monday in Nashville. With a win, the Predators will advance to their first Stanley Cup Final. An Anaheim win takes the series back to SoCal Wednesday for Game 7.
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