Pressure shifts to Anaheim Ducks after Nashville Predators force Game 7

ByPierre LeBrun via ESPN logo
Friday, May 13, 2016

NASHVILLE -- For the Nashville Predators, it's new territory they can't wait to experience. For the Anaheim Ducks, it's an all-too-familiar setting they wanted so badly to avoid.

Without question, the pressure in this series has shifted with Game 7 on tap, a first in the history of the Predators.

"Excited. You dream about it growing up. You're playing road hockey or you're playing on the pond, it's always Game 7 and an overtime winner," Predators captain Shea Webersaid. "Hopefully, it's for us. It's an exciting time."

Weber's empty-net goal sealed a 3-1 win Monday in Game 6 to force the maximum. There is one final game to go in the opening round of the playoffs, with everyone watching.

It's a scenario Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne was giddy just thinking about during the day, but he tried not to look past the task at hand.

"Even though you try to just think about this game, Game 6, this afternoon I was thinking about Game 7, and now it's here," he said. "It's a great feeling."

"I'm just super excited about it," he added later.

That's just it. You sensed in the Predators' dressing room a genuine exhilaration about the opportunity at hand. They're headed to Anaheim for Game 7 playing with house money. They relish the chance to upset a Stanley Cup favorite. They also know about Anaheim's recent past with Game 7s.

"I don't know where they're at," Predators head coach Peter Laviolette said of Anaheim feeling all the heat now. "Certainly, I think there's pressure, and things linger around from years past in the back of your head. In saying that, they're a good hockey team. There's a lot of pressure in the fact that maybe three of 70 people picked us to come out of the first round, so there's those expectations. I've been on that end of it, where you finish high in the standings, high in the conference, and there's expectations."

The narrative over the next 48 hours will be clear: The Ducks had a 3-2 series lead over the Detroit Red Wings in 2013, over the Los Angeles Kings in 2014 and the Chicago Blackhawks last year. They lost all three series at home in Game 7.

"It's a new team, a new time. Every year is different, every day is different," Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau insisted. "We're looking forward to the game."

Still, you wonder about that killer instinct. There would've been such a benefit to ending this series in six games and getting some rest before facing a San Jose Sharks team that has been home and cooled since Friday night.

Now the Ducks have to go the limit in a 50-50 Game 7. That's not ideal.

"It is what it is," Ducks captain Ryan Getzlafsaid when asked about the Game 7 history. "When you're in the playoffs, and it comes to that do-or-die game, it's a matter of just trying to get it done. We've won Game 7s in the past. It's just the last couple of years that we lost to some good teams that outperformed us in that Game 7. We started two in the hole in our building. If we would have said we'd have Game 7 in our building after that, we would have been happy."

About their building, the Honda Center. The Predators won the opening games of the series there and, on merit of play, probably deserved to win Game 5 there too.

"I feel like we've played three really strong games in Anaheim," Rinne said. "So that's something that I feel pretty confident about, and our crew feels comfortable playing there."

With their season on the line, Laviolette on Monday decided to move Filip Forsberg up on the top line with Ryan Johansen and James Neal. The move paid dividends. The trio had good zone time and scored the winner when Johansen made a sweet pass on a 2-on-1 break to Neal for an open-side goal.

"Just trying to find offense," Neal said of his coach putting all the big boys on the same line. "It's tough checking. You don't find much room. They're a team that plays good defense. It was like that all year. You have to do everything just to get chances. We did a good job of getting in the O-zone tonight and finding pucks, getting pucks to the net. I thought we had some good looks. Joey [Johansen] made an unbelievable play for me for a backdoor goal. Big plays at big times. We're going to need a couple other of those in Anaheim."

For the Preds to pull off a series upset, they'll need the kind of performance from their goalie that they got in Game 6. Rinne had been outplayed by Frederik Andersen ever since the Ducks goalie replaced John Gibson for Game 3.

On this night, Rinne was outstanding in making 26 saves, including a key save on Corey Perry, who was in alone with about 6:40 left. The Finnish veteran felt he needed to step up his performance.

"I needed to have a good game," he said. "It's been an up-and-down season and, at times, frustrating.

"The last three games since Andersen came in, he's been really strong, and even tonight, he played a solid game. As a goalie, you know you got to match that."

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