Duel of Defenses Brews Out West
The Anaheim Ducks had quite a chore to close out the Pacific Division title over their rivals in Los Angeles. They squeezed out the final points they needed in the last game of the season. Now the Ducks must take a breath and focus on the new challenge at hand – the Nashville Predators. The Ducks and Preds take the ice Friday in Anaheim for the opening game of their first-round playoff series. It could well be a great defensive duel.
Anaheim enters the series as one of the top teams in the Western Conference, and were particularly dominant in the second half of the season. They claimed their fourth straight division banner, but barely. Their 103 points were just one better than LA. They closed out the season winning three of their last five games. Nashville comes in having won just two of their last seven, but rested key players in their final game. The Predators totaled 96 points this year. They lead the series with the Ducks, 2-1, but all three of the games were way back in October and November. Last year, the Ducks rolled through the playoffs before being eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks in a tough seven-game series. The Preds were ousted by the Blackhawks in six games in the first round.
Neither team was spectacular in putting the puck in the net this year, the Predators carrying a 2.7 goals per game average, and the Ducks at 2.6. But there are some shooters to watch. The Predators' Filip Forsberg led his team with 94 points and has been especially effective on the power play. Winger James Neal has scored seven points in his last six games as part of his 58-point season tally. Nashville also picked up Ryan Johansen in a trade-deadline deal that perked the scoring potential. He's worked his way to the top line and has contributed points in his last five games.
Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf leads his team in points with 63, but only scored four goals in the last month of the season. Corey Perry has six goals and seven assists in his last 15 games.
This series may be won on the blue line. Anaheim leads the league in goals against and penalty killing, and Nashville has a tough corps of defenders led by Shea Weber and Roman Josi. In goal, the Ducks have an equal-time duo in John Gibson (2.07 GAA) and Frederik Andersen (2.30 GAA). Gibson has been injured but is in no danger of missing postseason action. Andersen had two shutouts in the last five games. The Predators' Pekka Rinne (2.46 GAA) had a troublesome end to the regular season, allowing two five-goal, and one four-goal loss in his last five.
Anaheim is the solid favorite for the opening game and in the series, but I'm not very fond of the -152 and -170 figures offered. The better angle might be the under 5, particularly with plus figures.
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