NHL Round One Playoffs Preview: Nashville vs. Anaheim

Game 7 is anyone’s game. Throw out everything you know about the series and look at who wants it more, and who in the past has won more Game 7s when everything is on the line.

The tough part is though, one team has no history since Game 7 is uncharted territory for the Nashville Predators, and for the other and their coach Bruce Boudreau, Game 7 is a haunting reminder of what can happen for the Anaheim Ducks.

The Preds have forced their first Game 7 in team history, and in this first Game 7 affair, Nashville will look to end the Ducks’ season in the same way they won Game 6, on Wednesday night.

For the Ducks, their loss on Monday by a 3-1 margin in Nashville conjured up very painful memories of Anaheim’s recent playoff failures. Luckily they get to return home for the finale of this opening-round series but there could be pressure on home ice, since will be more than nervous and even irate that the Ducks had to come this far to win. It hearkens back to last year’s playoff scenario, when the Ducks also had a 3-2 series lead over the reigning Champions, the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference finals. But they ended up losing Game 6 on the road and then losing Game 7 at home at the Honda Center.

That same scenario also unfolded against Los Angeles Kings in the second round in 2014, and against the Detroit Red Wings in the 2013 quarterfinals. So Game 7s have a horrible history and connotation for the Ducks.

“It’s a new team, new time,” said coach Bruce Boudreau of the possible Game 7 curse he’s incurred. “Every year is different. Every day is different. We’re looking forward to the game.”

But no matter how fans look at it, history hasn’t been on the Ducks’ side. They’ve lost four consecutive Game 7s since defeating Calgary in 2006. And for coach Boudreau it’s even a worse record, since he was behind the bench for the last three such defeats, and overall is 1-5 in winner-take-all games. His odds don’t look good at all.

“Nothing needs to be said,” said Ducks’ captain Ryan Getzlaf to media. “We’ve got to go out and do it. There’s no big speech or anything when it comes to Game 7. Everyone knows what they’re doing, and we’ve got to go out and execute better than the other group.”

Even though Nashville has never been in this situation, they have been playing really effective hockey, and their coach has plenty of experience and success in Game 7s. Peter Laviolette is 4-1 in Game 7s, the most memorable is a 3-1 win over Edmonton in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final with the Carolina Hurricanes.

“I don’t think there’s anything better in the Stanley Cup (playoffs) than a Game 7 when everything means something,” he said. “It’s a big game, our guys will be excited.”

Nashville is excited but they have a lot of work to do to reach to refine their game and get to their first conference semifinal since 2012. The Predators are 1 for 23 on the power play in the series, and have had a tough time against Goalie Frederik Andersen in the Anaheim goaltender’s four starts. He will probably get the nod for tonight’s game.

Andersen was put in net to change the pace in goal and replace lagging goalie John Gibson, after a poor performance in a 3-2 home loss in Game 2. Andersen stopped 84 of 87 shots to lead Anaheim to wins in the next three games and take the lead in the series.

Nashville goaltender, Pekka Rinne was outplayed by Andersen in each of those three games, but on Monday night he was more than up to the challenge and on his game. The All-Star made 26 saves, including a point-blank stop on Corey Perry with 6:40 left that protected their 2-1 lead and got them to Game 7. If he can maintain that form tonight, he can steal the game for his team.

Mattias Ekholm and James Neal put Nashville up with second-period goals and D-man, Shea Weber got an empty-netter in the final seconds that sealed the Predators’ first Game 6 win when facing elimination. Up to that moment they had been a paltry 0-8.

“They’re fighting for their lives, and we knew that we were going to get their best,” said Duck’s captain, Getzlaf, who held off the scoresheet after banking two goals and three assists over the first five games. If the Ducks want to win tonight, he will have to bring it.

Andersen has a 1.26 goals-against average in the series. But he struggled against Chicago in Game 7 last year, given up two first-period goals and stopping just 21 shots in a 5-3 defeat. That loss just might come back to haunt him if Nashville puts up a few quick goals early on in the game.

Whoever is able to be on their game and get the goaltending you need to get to the Stanley Cup finals will win tonight, that is indisputable. Whether it’s the Ducks who break a curse or the Preds who taste their first Game 7 victory, San Jose will await Wednesday’s winner after easily dispatching Los Angeles in five games. So it’s not about to get any easier after tonight.

Our Pick: Preds over Ducks, 4-3