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How the Predators have outmuscled the Ducks in Round 1

Before this postseason, the Nashville Predators hadn’t often been the clear and obvious aggressor through the first two games of a playoff series.

Until Sunday, when the Predators pushed and punched their way to 3-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks in Game 2 of their first-round series, they had never held a 2-0 series lead in their franchise history. And much of the reason why has to do with their physical play and imposing their style on the Ducks – a team known for rough and tumble hockey.

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“I just think they’re a physical team. They like to play physical. They have some size over there,” Predators captain Shea Weber said. “We’re just trying to stay within our game here and not deviate from our system and stay focused.” 

The way Nashville has beat the Ducks, a team many picked to make the Stanley Cup Final, through two games has been one of the biggest surprises of the playoffs so far.

Nashville’s ability to play physically clean and goad the Ducks into taking undisciplined penalties has proved a major advantage. The Predators have been on the power play, eight times through two games. The Ducks have drawn a man-advantage five times. Though the Predators have scored just once on the power play, Anaheim’s shorthanded time has enabled the Predators to control the flow of the game.

In Game 2, a contest the Ducks needed in order to prevent heading to Nashville down 0-2, the Predators had the man-advantage five times to Anaheim’s one power play.

“They’re a big team, we’re a big team. I think we manage that well as well and just with the scrums and everything, we want to stay square,” defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. “We don’t want to hit after whistles. We don’t want to take those stupid penalties. So far so good.”

Nashville’s discipline, and Anaheim’s lack of patience has led to some panic with the Ducks. On Monday, coach Bruce Boudreau called out his team’s stars.

Captain Ryan Getzlaf has been a non-factor through two games with one goal and one penalty. Forward Corey Perry has one assist, two minor penalties and is a minus-3.

“Sometimes it gets over the line. It’s almost like road rage. You do it (even though) you’re supposed to be in control. You lose control. Obviously, it’s something we have to gain back. We can’t continue to do that because we can’t take five penalties a game and not get our power play on the ice as well,” Boudreau said according to the Orange County Register. “It’s something that will be addressed.”

In the playoffs, games and series often come down to matchups. Before the series it appeared the Ducks were too big and brawny for the Predators, but coach Peter Laviolette pointed out his team can play different styles.

They can play a power game with stars like Weber and center Ryan Johansen. They can play a speed game with forward Filip Forsberg and defenseman Roman Josi.

“Our division is tough. It’s built with heavy teams and there’s times where I think the regular season is training for a game like this against Anaheim who plays big and physical,” Laviolette said. “You play St. Louis enough and you play Winnipeg enough, LA enough. Those are games you have to play heavy in. And then there’s other games you have to play fast like Chicago and Dallas, where it’s more about puck possession.”

Were the Preds underestimated by the Ducks heading into the playoffs? From Feb. 12 until the end of the regular season, the Predators held the league’s fourth-best record at 16-6-6. The Ducks were arguably the NHL’s top second-half group this season, and it was believed the Predators were at least good enough to hang with the Ducks, but ultimately lose out in the series.

Instead, they’ve punched harder and Anaheim’s had no answer so far.

“It’s a long series and a seven game series for a reason,” Weber said. “They’re going to come out with a better effort. I don’t think we can sit back and dwell on anything we’ve done so far, it’s just going to get harder.”  

It’s difficult to discount Nashville’s historical lack of playoff success compared to Anaheim’s when trying to handicap this series.

Nobody on Predators roster has won a Stanley Cup. Only Mike Fisher has gone to a Stanley Cup Final. This year's Ducks team is mostly the same as the group that made the Western Conference Final a year ago.  

Most years Nashville's favored opponents have played the alpha in their series.

Since the 2004-05 NHL lockout, the Predators made the playoffs seven times, and have faced a team that made a Stanley Cup Final four times. Three teams the Predators have played have won a Stanley Cup. The Predators organization has never made it past the second-round of the postseason. 

Weber has played on all these teams. He's been through all the downs and understands the best way for his team to truly grasp control of this series is to keep throwing body blows at the Ducks. 

“It’s a long series and a seven game series for a reason,” he said. “They’re going to come out with a better effort. I don’t think we can sit back and dwell on anything we’ve done so far, it’s just going to get harder.”

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

 

 

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