As the countdown to tonight's game gets shorter and shorter, we wanted to get yet another outside perspective on the upcoming series. Earl Sleek from Battle of California, SB Nation's website covering all things California hockey, answered our questions from yesterday, as well as a few extra...
1) Coming into the season, Anaheim's defense was a huge concern. How have the Ducks been able to do to remedy that, and who has stepped up on the blue line?
Earl: The Ducks have shuffled in injured or acquired blueliners from the start of the season, and now it's turned into a fairly reliable top-five or six. Toni Lydman and Lubomir Visnovsky have definitely been the stars -- at even strength, they are a great combination of Lydman's stability with Lubo's offense, and that's evident in their rankings in the plus-minus and scoring season totals.
Below that, Luca Sbisa and re-imported Francois Beauchemin provide some steady minutes, while Cam Fowler plus the depth-defenseman-of-the-hour (Sheldon Brookbank recently) have become fairly reliable, plus the forwards have been a bit more helpful in backchecking since goaltending became the crisis of the hour.
2) Corey Perry finished a spectacular season with 50 goals and 48 assists, moving him to the forefront of the MVP conversation. Just how important has he been to Anaheim this season?
Earl: As tight as the western conference has been all season, he's been tremendous. The Ducks managed to pull their way into the fourth spot without benefit of a productive third or fourth line -- all of it has been because of Getzlaf-Perry-Ryan and some good games by Koivu-Selanne-Blake.
Perry seems less of a hothead than he used to be, which is good -- he's Anaheim's best even-strength forward, penalty-killing forward, and power play forward under the age of 40. Ducks certainly wouldn't be playing right now without him.
3) The goaltending situation looks to be up in the air. I know Preds fans would love to see Dan Ellis between the pipes. Who do you see getting most of the action in net?
Earl: Probably Ellis, but who knows? Ray Emery seems to be banged up still and nobody knows what the story is with Jonas Hiller -- you guys saw his one game back down the stretch; even the few saves he made he seemed lost. If all three goalies were healthy, you'd probably see Emery backing up Hiller. As it stands now, it'll probably be Hiller backing up Ellis.
And while that's obviously not ideal, I'm not sure that it's been that terrible for the Ducks -- since Ellis and Emery were brought aboard, the team has certainly improved its play in front of their netminder. It's certainly overstating things to say that the Ducks' season was saved by vertigo, but it seems that did help the team assume a more responsible game.
4) We all know about Perry/Getzlaf/Ryan/Selanne, but do you think we could see someone Nashville fans may not know much about making some noise offensively?
Earl: Nope! Not any serious noise, anyways. Brandon McMillan (I don't even know if that's spelled correctly, since I've always called him "Bacon McMuffin") has been the most serious threat from the bottom two lines down the stretch, but if he scores two goals in the series I'll be thrilled.
Expect to have a good chuckle any time Todd Marchant gets in on a breakaway.
5) What do you think the key for the Ducks is to win this series?
Earl: Can the Ducks continue to get solid goaltending from whoever they are forced to start? That's probably the primary key.
6) This year, more teams from California made the playoffs than teams from Canada. What does that say about the sport's growth in California?
Earl: Well, I can't truly say that BoC flourished because we have better fans or anything, but over the past couple of years the quality of teams in the Pacific Division has been stellar -- it has turned from what used to be a 2- or 3- team race into a solid 5-team race. As the division has grown tougher, I think each team has become more battle-tested, and we're seeing the results.
Earl: Mostly just refer to the team as the "Quacks" and throw in as many Emilio Estevez references as possible. Getzlaf's baldness and Perry's face are also fair game for mockery.
For more, head on over to Battle of California.