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Preds give Dan Ellis problems, take game one in Anaheim…

Alright….. now THAT’S how this team can play!

In absolutely dominating fashion, the Nashville Predators beat the Anaheim Ducks 4-1 on Wednesday night to take the 1-0 series lead in the first round of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In front of a (reportedly) sold out Honda Center, the Preds got goals from Shea Weber and Steve Sullivan as well as two from Mike Fisher to steal home ice advantage from the fourth-seeded Ducks.

Pekka Rinne may have only made 27 saves but don’t let that fool you. He was Hart Trophy-esque in Game 1, stopping everything that came his way short of a 5-on-3 power play strike by Teemu Selanne in the third period.

The Preds were dominating from the outset. That’s not to mean the Ducks didn’t fight back or even play well. They did. But Nashville was so strong and so consistent and so relentless for the entire 60 minutes that Anaheim just couldn’t catch up.

Weber set the tone early with a thundering hit on Selanne. In actuality, he caught more of the boards than “The Finnish Flash” as Selanne saw the hit coming and bailed, but it still looked (and sounded) huge. Then, moments later, Weber set the tone offensively by blasting a shot past former Predator Dan Ellis for the 1-0 lead.

It would take the Preds until the end of the middle frame to solve Ellis again but they’d do it twice. After Patric Hornqvist carried into the Ducks zone and took a hit to make the pass, Fisher wristed a laser up and over Ellis for the 2-0 lead. Then, less than 3:00 later, Sullivan drove hard to the net and got his own rebound to make it 3-0 going into the locker room for the second intermission.

As if the second period ended a little too early for their liking, the Preds got a second goal off of a Fisher wristshot a mere 0:56 into the third. That’s when Ducks Head Coach Randy Carlyle yanked Ellis in favor of Ray Emery. Ellis allowed four goals on just 24 shots but Carlyle would later say the move was to give Emery some work since the Ducks goaltending situation is so up in the air right now.

“It gives us more options for Friday,” Carlyle said in his post-game press conference.

If you recall, All-Star goaltender Jonas Hiller has been out with vertigo-like symptoms, Emery has struggled with re-aggrevating injuries and Ellis was brought in at the trade deadline to help shore up that position. So, while Emery was the back-up on this night, that’s doesn’t necessarily mean he will be on Friday.

But what happens on Friday if the Ducks do start Emery and the Preds are able to get a couple past him early? That’s a scary proposition for Anaheim. Ellis has been solid since coming over from the Tampa Bay Lightning. He went 8-3-1 with a 2.39 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage.

But that’s in the regular season. This is the post season. He’s now 2-5-0 career in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Preds will try to further diminish that record if he’s the man in net.

The effort by the Predators was exactly what they needed. We’ve seen them play that hard and that determined at times during the season but rarely for a full 60 minutes. They almost played “desperate,” despite being just the first game of a best-of-seven series. And, since they didn’t take their foot off the gas like usual (see: Toronto in November, Anaheim in March and Detroit in April), they proved that they can, in fact, play an entire game with the same intensity from the drop of the puck to the final horn.

Yes, Rinne had to stand tall once again but, in front of him, the passes were crisp, the dump-ins were with purpose, the breakouts were focused and the attacks were supported. In essence, they were doing all of the little things correctly and that’s what it takes to win in the playoffs.

The true test comes Friday in Game 2. The Ducks need to prove they can bounce back and the Preds need to prove that they’re not satisfied with just one road win. If Nashville comes out with the same intensity — for all 60 minutes — on Friday night, they very well could come home with a 2-0 series lead in their pockets for the first time in franchise history.

Imagine that atmosphere.

Puck drops at 9:30pm Central on Friday night. Come watch the game with us at The Athletic Club inside the Embassy Suites in Franklin.

* The Predators were the only road team (read: only lower seed) to win on Wednesday.
* Colin Wilson, JP Dumont and Cal O’Reilly were the healthy scratches Wednesday. And, since the Preds won Game 1, expect that to be the same rested lineup for Game 2.
* Was Wednesday night the first time in NHL history that a Hart Trophy candidate has speared another Hart Trophy candidate? Because it happened. Corey Perry, at the end of the second period, speared Rinne and — big surprise — no call was made.
* Fisher had his two goals but also picked up an assist on the Weber goal.
* The Preds only took two penalties (both to Shane O’Brien) in the opening two periods. In the third, all hell broke loose as they got rung up five times. And, as predicted, that’s when the Ducks got on the board.
* The Ducks chose to put their top line of Perry-Ryan GetzlafBobby Ryan up against rookie Jon Blum and the much-maligned Kevin Klein. All Blum and Klein did was go out and shut down that line, register a plus-2 rating and bag an assist each.
* Perry, a plus-9 during the regular season, was a whopping minus-3 in this game. So, not only was he not doing his job on the offensive end, he wasn’t chipping in on the defensive end either.
* In one of the best moments in Predators history, George Parros was trying to stir things up with less than a minute to play when O’Brien decided to show Parros where the trump card was.
* Anaheim thugs Parros, Jarkko Ruutu and Sheldon Brookbank were all assessed 10:00 game misconducts in the final minute of play. The Predators took none.
* Rinne has not allowed an even-strength playoff goal in 107:57.
* As much as we blast Klein, we have to give credit where credit is due. When Perry took an extra whack at Rinne’s glove after the whistle, Klein stuck up for his team MVP by dropping the gloves with the 50-goal scorer. Klein got a clean right hook in and dropped Perry on top of the Nashville cage.
* Brentwood, Tennessee native Blake Geoffrion asissted on Sullivan’s goal, giving him his first career playoff point.
* As Willy Daunic stated Thursday morning on 104.5 the Zone, the mood in the Predators locker room after the game wasn’t as if they’d done something spectacular. He said, if anything, it was business as usual. And that’s a great sign going forward.

1) Mike Fisher (NSH)
2) Pekka Rinne (NSH)
3) Saku Koivu (ANA)

PHOTO CREDIT: Jeremy K. Gover //