Anaheim/Nashville - Game Three: What To Watch For
The Predators flew back to the Music City on Monday with two wins stored in their baggage compartment. Tonight's game three will pose a brand new level of difficulty if Anaheim plans to make this a series
Goal change apparent
Although John Gibson hasn't played that poorly in net for the Ducks, they will hand over the goaltending duties to Frederik Andersen for game three in Nashville. It's not the worst decision for Anaheim, however its up to head coach Bruce Boudreau to change things up when his team has its back up against a wall.
And they most certainly do.
Andersen finished the season 22-9-7 with three shutouts. He also has a 14-7 career postseason record over the last two years.
I'm not entirely sure that switching from Gibson to Andersen will impact the Predators plans in the first round, however it would be wise for Nashville to test him early and often. A couple quick goals could really unravel Anaheim quickly.
Expect a different Ducks team than in games one and two
I find it hard to believe that Anaheim will come out for game three and try the same level of antics that they were heavily penalized for in games one and two, albeit it wouldn't surprise me if they did.
That being said, expect a more calm and collected Ducks group hit the ice tonight and try to play a more focused game against the Predators.
They've needed that from the get-go, but too many frustrations have mounted for Anaheim to really assert itself in this series.
When I asked Predators winger James Neal this morning if he was surprised that with how the Ducks couldn't stay out of the penalty box this series, he attributed it to playoff emotions: "It's playoff hockey. Guys are excited, amped up and ready to go. Tempers flare. They were down one game and wanted to play physical. Sometimes [those penalties] happen. I don't think anyone was surprised. It's gonna happen. We just need to keep our calm, play hockey and play within the whistles."
Twisting the knife
Nashville has a very unique opportunity tonight to put Anaheim behind three games to none and have itself one win away from a trip to the second round -- and inevitably a trip back to California.
Keeping that in mind, it would be wise for the Predators to not stray from the formula that helped them win games one and two: stellar goaltending from Pekka Rinne, sacrificing the body, preventing zone entries and quality chances towards the Ducks net.
Yes, it sounds easier said than done, but so far Nashville hasn't had much trouble staying focused on the philosophy that Peter Laviolette has been laying down for nearly two years.
In many ways, this series reminds me of the Vancouver/Los Angeles first round series to begin the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. That Kings team went on to win the Stanley Cup after slicing their way through three opponents and only losing two games before the Finals.
Of course every year is different, but this Predators team has a level of poise I haven't seen before. Winning tonight's game makes it all but an eventuality that Nashville will carry that same momentum into the second round.