James Neal (John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Nashville Predators continued to contain the Anaheim Ducks top stars and hung on for a 3-1 victory in Game 6 to force a seventh and deciding game. A late second period goal by James Neal stood as the game-winner.
The Predators haven’t seen the second round of the post-season since the 2011-12 season, and with their backs against the wall, Nashville did what few imagined they could do against an incredibly tough Anaheim Ducks team: they’ve forced the series to a one-game, winner-takes-all Game 7.
The Predators’ forced the deciding seventh game because, as they’ve done for much of the series, they shut down the Ducks’ top stars, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf and relied on their ability to counterpunch in order to take a hang on for a 3-1 victory. The Predators’ have frustrated Perry and Getzlaf all series, giving the duo almost no room to operate. Even when Bruce Boudreau paired Getzlaf with Perry, the two weren’t able to generate any offense and Predators netminder Pekka Rinne slammed the door on any and all chances the pair was able to get.
In the contests the Predators have won this series, Rinne was no doubt the difference between wins and losses. Nashville has had to rely on their veteran goaltender, too, because over the past three games they’ve only generated six goals. Luckily, one of those goals was James Neal’s game-winner, which came in the final minutes of the second.
Again, though, the only scares the Predators really had came when they foolishly put the Ducks on the power play. And though the call that put Mattias Ekholm in the penalty box late in the second period was questionable, it was the type of play the Predators have to avoid away from the puck. Getting tangled up and taking needless minor penalties have put Nashville in trouble already in this series, and it was far from surprising that the Ducks’ lone goal in Game 6 came with the man advantage.
But even with the scare on the penalty kill, the Predators were able to fend off waves of Anaheim’s attack in the third period. Few would have expected the Predators to hang with the Ducks entering the series and that Nashville had an early 2-0 series lead wasn’t only surprising, it was completely unexpected. And even though Games 3 and 4 got away from the Predators, coach Peter Laviolette has found a way to get his club to regroup and show they more than belong on the same ice as the Ducks.
So, who comes away with Game 7?
For Nashville, advancing to the second round is going to take a replication of Game 6, a contest where they were smothering defensively and the most disciplined they’ve been throughout the entire series. The Predators can’t afford to let the Ducks’ league-best power play go to work in a game where a single goal could be all it takes to move on to Round Two. They’ll also have to stop Perry and Getzlaf once again, and that won’t be an easy task.
It’s going to have to be Anaheim’s two stars who have to show up and take over a game if Anaheim wants to ensure they’re moving on in what looks to be an extremely promising season. The Ducks have been here before, too: their past three seasons have ended in a Game 7 at home, and you can rest assured that will be talked about ahead of Wednesday’s game. And in a season where the Ducks haven’t made anything easy for themselves, they’re going to need one more win to move on.
In a series where both teams have won on the road, both teams have won at home and they’ve gone back and forth all series, don’t be surprised if regulation in Game 7 isn’t enough.