The Predators opened their Stanley Cup match up with the Anaheim Ducks in the hostile confines of the Honda Center. The Predators made themselves right at home in the Ducks nest with a 4-1 victory.
It was obvious that the Ducks were going to try to exert their physical will against the Predators. The Ducks finished their checks with vigor, but the Predators answered with some thunderous checks of their own. As the period wore on, the Predators gave a solid physical response to the Ducks, showing that the physical play would not back them down.
The Ducks over aggressive play led to a cross checking penalty by Matt Belesky against Kevin Klein. The Predators made the Ducks pay for their transgression with the first goal of the playoff series with a blast from Shea Weber from the point that blew past Dan Ellis at 4:13 of the first period.
Pekka Rinne was called upon to make some big saves for the Predators, and the most amazing was a right pad save on Teemu Selanne. Selanne took a cross crease pass and had an open net, but Rinne was cat quick in sliding across and getting the pad on the shot.
The Predators were determined to put pucks and traffic on the net and did that often in the first period. Dan Ellis made some good stops with an abundance of traffic in front of him.
The second period was like a heavyweight fight with both teams trading checks and probing for the others weakness. Play was intense and up and down the ice. As the period wore on, the pace slowed a bit, but the Predators kept up a strong forecheck that bottled up the Ducks offense. When the Ducks did establish their offense, Rinne was strong in net.
The Predators finally cracked the Ducks defense when Cody Franson chipped the puck off the glass to the far blue line. Steve Sullivan gathered in the puck and broke in alone on Ellis, who stopped the first shot sprawling to the ice. Sullivan did not give up on the puck and was able to get his stick on the rebound lying in the blue ice and tap it under the pads of the prone Ellis at 15:16.
The Predators kept the pressure on the Ducks and capitalized at 18:08 when Mike Fisher took a pass from Patric Hornqvist and blistered a shot over the shoulder of Ellis from the left face off circle.
The Predators outshot the Ducks for the period 14-8 and held a 22-16 advantage through two periods. So far, the defense had done a great job of shutting down the weapons of the Ducks.
You knew the Ducks would come out flying in the third as they attempted to get back in the game. Mike Fisher thwarted that momentum and ripped the heart out of the Ducks with his second goal of the game just 56 seconds into the period off an assist from Jonathan Blum. Fisher split the defense and rifled a shot from just inside the blueline that handcuffed Ellis for a 4-1 Predators lead and Fisher's second of the game.
The fourth goal by the Predators was a Dan Ellis problem, as he was pulled and Ray Emery came into the game.
The Ducks reverted to their thuggish ways in the third and goaded the Predators into penalties.Blake Geoffrion and Luca Sbisa got coincidental roughing penalties at 9:30. David Legwand got a hooking penalty at 9:50. Kevin Klein got a double minor for roughing and Corey Perry got a minor for roughing at 10:28. With a 5 on 3 advantage, the Ducks were finally able to find the back of the net as Teemu Selanne tallied at 11:24.
Since the Ducks could not solve Rinne and could not outscore the Predators at even strength, their strategy was to try to run Rinne and get the Predators to take penalties. For the most, the Predators did a good job of keeping their emotions in check and continuing to frustrate the Ducks.Keeping those emotions in check proved to be a Herculean task as the Ducks took every opportunity to try to draw penalties, hit after the play, and run at Rinne. Kudos to the boys for keeping their composure.
The best way to deal with the goons from Anaheim? Shane O'Brien did it when he pointed at the scoreboard after a late game scrum.
The Predators closed out the Ducks by playing solid defense and staying disciplined for the remainder of the game.
This feels good, but the Predators have to remember they are playing the NHL's equivalent of the Hell's Angels. The Ducks are a dirty team- witness Corey Perry's spear of Pekka Rinne at the end of the second period- and they will attempt to goon it up in the rest of this series. The Predators are going have to be physically AND mentally tough to survive this series. They cannot let the Ducks goad them into penalties. They have to control their physical play. This series will be a war. Be ready.
Punish the Ducks for their play, but do it within the confines of the rules.
This is one. One win out of 16 that you need for the prize. Your second step toward that prize comes on Friday night.
My three stars:
1. Mike Fisher
2. Pekka Rinne
3. Steve Sullivan