ANAHEIM, Calif. – For almost the entire first 20 minutes of Game 2 of the Western Conference Final, the Nashville Predators looked defensively composed and primed to take a 2-0 series lead.
During that stretch they held a 2-0 advantage in the game and were dominating the Ducks territorially.
Then Anaheim defenseman Sami Vatanen blasted the puck high to the stick side of Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne with a minute to go in the frame to cut the Preds’ lead to 2-1. The Ducks had life, momentum and then after the period ended quickly found a way to get through Nashville’s neutral zone clogging system.
The Predators looked defensively flustered for the first time in the series and then eventually lost the game 5-3. Though Nashville ended up finishing these first two games tied 1-1 with the Ducks in the series, they still bemoaned a lost chance to truly seize control of the Western Conference Final.
“They got a late goal in the first period and maybe that got them going a little bit,” Predators forward Viktor Arvidsson said. “I thought we sat back too much in the second period and just watched and didn’t play fast enough. We have to be better for sure and like I said, we have to regroup here and go back to Nashville and take Game 3.”
For pretty much the entire postseason, the Predators defense has been difficult for all their opponents to crack. They’ve clogged up the center of the ice, which has led to other teams basically giving the puck to goaltender Pekka Rinne on dumps into the zone. The netminder has then retrieved the puck and quickly used his puck-handling ability to break the team out.
On Sunday after the first period, the Ducks seemed to find a way to break through this trap and create chances. The five goals allowed by Nashville were the most by the Predators in the postseason. Their previous high was three, which they had allowed twice in the playoffs. Four of Anaheim’s goals came in the second period.
“They were a good team that moves up and down the ice. They got speed. And I thought from a defensive standpoint we could have been a little bit tighter, a little bit quicker to what we were doing, a little bit more mindful of what we were doing,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. “But like I said, I think they just grabbed momentum. Everything lit up.”
Though Nashville struggled defensively, Rinne also seemed to have trouble on two of the Ducks’ goals
Both Vatanen and Nick Ritchie beat Rinne from wide of the faceoff dots on both sides. Ritchie’s goal came late in the second period off a rush where Nashville couldn’t negate Anaheim’s speed and proved to be the game-winner. Overall Rinne allowed four goals on 26 shots on goal. The Ducks’ fifth tally was an empty netter by Antoine Vermette.
“The game is 2-0 and it’s a 60-minute game and it’s a good hockey team there and they were able to tie the game,” Rinne said. “Obviously that was a big goal for them at the end of the first period, that Vatanen power play goal and I think that got them going but still, I’m still happy with how we battled back and obviously disappointed but we had enough chances, like I said. You have to play a solid 60 minutes to win these games.”
Though Nashville struggled to contain Anaheim in this game, their problems could be just small defensive slip for them. It’s tough for any team to keep up that type of structure for an entire postseason run. But if the Ducks again exploit the Predators in Game 3, Nashville may need to adjust to try to get their flow back in keeping the puck out of their net.
“I mean they’re a skilled team. They can make plays if we let them,” Nashville forward Filip Forsberg said. “I think we obviously gotta be a little better in that area, that’s for sure.”
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