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Previewing the Ducks and Preds first round match-up…

Anaheim is loaded with offensive talent. The Preds? Not so much. Take Hart Trophy candidate Corey Perry for example. He was the only NHL player to score 50 goals this season, winning the Rocket Richard trophy in the process. But he’s not the only show in town. There’s also two time All-Star Ryan Getzlaf, young phenom Bobby Ryan who’s managed to score at least 30 goals in all three of his NHL seasons and this one guy named Teemu Selanne, you may have heard of him. At 40 years old, he doubled his age in points and was a monster on the power play, scoring 16 goals (third best in the league).

Speaking of the power play, the Ducks will slaughter any team that gives them multiple chances on the man advantage. They finished the regular season at a 23.5% clip, tied for second in the league. They were only fourth best on the road though so that’s good news. (*rolls eyes*). If Anaheim gets more than three chances a game, you can bet they’re going to score. They’re way too powerful and can dazzle you with their puck movement and cycling.

Experience is also a key factor. Perry has won a Stanley Cup. Selanne has won a Stanley Cup. Getzlaf has won a Stanley Cup. Anaheim’s top players have all been there, done that. They know how to win. Nashville, on the other hand, has never been out of the first round as a franchise, has not a single Stanley Cup ring on it’s roster and, thanks to all the injuries they’ve endured this year, is the youngest team in the NHL. Mike Fisher, who was acquired near the trade deadline, is the closest thing the Predators have to an experienced veteran who knows how to win. He played in the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals but lost to Perry, Selanne and Getzlaf who got their rings at his expense.

Anaheim has scored 10 goals on the Predators this season. Half of those have come from the stick of Perry, Ryan or Selanne. On a bright note (if this is one), Getzlaf has been held to a mere three assists against the Preds this season, all three of which came in that fluky 5-4 Nashville win in March.

So while 50-goal scorer Perry is obviously the biggest threat, Selanne is the Predator killer. He has 50 points in 42 career games against Nashville (21 of those have come on the power play, by the way) and, this season alone, he has six points in four games. Two of his three goals against the Preds have come on — you guessed it — the man advantage.

So, really, there’s a theme here. Anaheim will punch a ticket to the second round if they get multiple power play opportunities.

If David Legwand and company can shut down the Perry-Getzlaf-Ryan line, the Predators secondary scorers should be able to contain the rest of the Ducks. After the top line and Selanne, Saku Koivu led the forwards in scoring with a mediocre 45 points. Before you start saying “but that’s all the Predators have is 45 point guys,” hear me out. The Ducks, in essence, have one huge line, a mediocre (yet dangerous) second line and then nobody else. Nashville has a much more balanced attack that can strike at any time. And, on top of that, they play a great two-way game so the lesser lines of Anaheim shouldn’t be much of a factor.

Goaltending. Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne may very well be pitted against Anaheim’s Perry even after the season is over. Both have strong cases to be Hart Trophy nominees but that’s another argument for another day. We need to stick with the business at hand: the playoffs. Rinne might be 2-4 in his NHL post season career, but the first round loss to Chicago was hardly his fault. In fact, he played beyond expectations for a goaltender who had never seen NHL playoff intensity before. Case in point, in each of the Nashville wins, he allowed just a single goal. If he can provide that kind of goaltending, there’s no reason to think the guys in front of him can’t score on Dan Ellis enough to win games.

As a side note: the good news? Rinne hasn’t lost back-to-back games since February 26. The bad news? Predators don’t have home ice so it doesn’t matter if he wins every other game or not, they’re still going home in late April.

Believe it or not, at even-strength the Predators have the advantage. Nashville has scored 17 goals on the Ducks this season. 15 of those were at even-strength and one was even shorthanded. So while that doesn’t bode well for Nashville’s power play (the same power play that literally kept them from beating the eventual Stanley Cup champions in the first round last season), it’s a great sign for every other aspect. Anaheim, on the flip side, has found the back of the Nashville net a mere 11 times this year, only eight of which were at even-strength. Furthermore, the Preds finished with the fifth best penalty killing unit in the NHL so, while you don’t want to tempt fate, there’s reason to believe they’ll survive some mistakes. (We stress the word “some.”) So, in short, if the Predators can stay out of the box — let’s say a maximum of three penalties a game — then they have a very good chance to win the series.

ANAHEIM DUCKS: Can they find enough goal scoring on the bottom two lines to win games? Brandon McMillan (21 points), Todd Marchant (8) and Dan Sexton (13) are just some of the names you’ll find on Anaheim’s third and fourth lines. Not exactly offensive threats. But, if they can chip in with a couple big goals here and there, Anaheim will be in great shape.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS: Two words: Patric Hornqvist. Last season he was their leading goal scorer with 30. In the post season, however, he was hurt and only managed to play in two games, logging just 26:20 of total ice time. What can he do now that’s he healthy? What kind of contribution will he make by being in the lineup all series long? Predators fans are eager to find out.

ANAHEIM DUCKS: I find it hard to pick anyone other than Selanne here. Yes, an argument could be made for 50-goal scorer Perry or even the former Predator Ellis who could become his own worst enemy in the environment of Bridgestone Arena but, honest and true, Selanne is the player to watch. He’s a second line guy so he won’t be shackled by Nashville’s shutdown line and single-handedly disposes of teams on the power play. 40 years old or not, Selanne is the series-breaker for the Ducks.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS: Shea Weber. The Norris Trophy candidate literally sets the tone for this club. He’s been growing his playoff beard since March to show his team they were already in the playoffs, he amps up his teammates with a big defensive play or thundering hit early on and, when he scores a goal, Nashville is an impressive 13-2-1 this year. What might be even more ridiculous is, when he shows up on the scoresheet at all, the Predators were 30-6-4. So, as you can see, as the captain goes, the team goes.

ANAHEIM DUCKS: Lubomir Visnovsky, who led all NHL defensemen in scoring (68 points), has just one post season point in his entire NHL career. Which also begs the question: is he a clutch player who can turn it on when it matters most? We’re about to find out because he hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2002.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS: The Predators have yet to win a single playoff series and have only won one road playoff game in their franchise history.

If the Predators can play like they have been over the past month (sans Saturday in St. Louis) and stay out of the box, it’ll be a tough series but they will come out on top. If Nashville gives the Ducks too many opportunities on the man advantage, Anaheim will make this a short series.

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