Two of the NHL’s newer franchises will square off in the first round of the NHL playoffs when the Anaheim Ducks meet the Nashville Predators. Nashville has gotten it done thanks to a suffocating defense and one of the top goalkeepers in the game. Meanwhile, the Ducks have reached this point thanks to a late season push that gave them the four seed. Continue reading to find out our Stanley Cup picks in this series.
#5 Nashville Predators
How They Got Here: Nashville has now reached the postseason in six of its last seven seasons, but has failed to advance past the first round each season. Playing in the brutal Central Division with the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings has done the Predators little favor, but they rode goalie Pekka Rinne to the postseason. A 10-3-2 record in the month of March pushed the Predators above the pack and put them back in the playoffs.
Player to Watch: Captain D Shea Weber is the leader of the Predators and is a big reason why the Predators were third in the NHL in goals allowed per game (2.3) and fifth in penalty kill percentage (85.0). Weber was also tied for third on the team with 48 points (16 goals, 32 assists) and led the team in ice time.
Goalie Outlook: Pekka Rinne had a fantastic 2010-11 NHL regular season, running up a 33-22-9 record with a 2.12 GAA and a .930 save percentage. Both his GAA and save percentage were among the best in the league and although he won’t win the Vezina Trophy, may be named a finalist for the award. Rinne will need to continue his standout play for the Predators to get past the Ducks.
Key to Victory: One word: Rinne. The Predators leading scorer only has 50 points and the team was just 21st in the NHL in goals per game (2.6). With a mediocre offense, the Predators are going to need to rely on Rinne to shut down Corey Perry and the Ducks. If Rinne doesn’t show up, the Predators will again fall in the first round.
#4 Anaheim Ducks
How They Got Here: A little over a month ago, the Ducks postseason hopes were seriously in doubt after a five game losing streak at the end of February. Since that point though, the Ducks have went 15-5-0 and rocketed all the way up to the four seed thanks to having the most wins in regulation time out of all the teams with 99 points. Anaheim has been one of the most efficient teams on the power play this season, converting on 23.5% of the opportunities, third best in the NHL.
Player to Watch: RW Corey Perry had a phenomenal season and should be given serious consideration for the Hart Trophy. Perry was the league’s only 50 goal scorer, landing right on the magical number, and finished five goals ahead of Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos. Perry’s 98 points were third most in the NHL as he proved himself to be one of the best forwards in all of hockey. Somewhat lost in Perry’s numbers was his impressive play on the penalty kill, where he notched four short-handed goals this season.
Goalie Outlook: The Ducks have had a mess of a situation at goaltender this season with four different goaltenders playing in at least 10 games. Jonas Hiller came into the season as the starter and put up quality numbers, but has only played in two games in the last two months due to vertigo. Ray Emery looked to be the starting goaltender heading into this series, but a lower-body injury suffered on Wednesday puts his status in doubt. If Emery can’t go, the Ducks will look to Dan Ellis, who has tallied an 8-3-1 record with a 2.39 GAA and a .917 save percentage since being acquired from Tampa Bay.
Key to Victory: With the myriad of questions in net, the Ducks will need to rely on Corey Perry and his goal-scoring ability to get past the Predators. Perry has been on a serious hot streak lately, lighting the lamp 19 times in the past 16 games and virtually carried the Ducks to the playoffs down the stretch. If Anaheim hopes to advance, Perry will need to get the puck past the pesky Rinne.
2010-11 Regular Season Meetings
March 24th – Nashville 5 – Anaheim 4
January 5th – Anaheim 1 – Nashville 4
November 7th – Anaheim 5 – Nashville 4
October 9th – Nashville 4 – Anaheim 1
Season Series Notes: Nashville won the season series 3-1, while the home team also went 3-1 in their four games. Rinne was 3-0 against the Ducks this season, and the only time they could beat the Predators was when backup goaltender Anders Lindback was in net.
The Final Word: This series looks to be strength against strength. Anaheim has a potent offense and a questionable defense, while Nashville has a superb defense and an iffy offense. Anaheim’s murky goaltender situation doesn’t help matters and although Ellis has been solid with the Ducks, he was awful in Tampa and is a far cry from Rinne. We expect the old adage of, “Defense wins championships” to ring true here.
Stanley Cup Free Picks: Nashville in 6
Aaron Ryan has been in the sportswriting biz since the late-90s, and he has worked side by side with some of the best and brightest in sports gambling. Always searching for the best trends in sports, Andrew uses his brilliant math mind to his advantage to beat the books.