It took almost a full period just to figure out who was playing with whom on Saturday afternoon in Anaheim. Of course the whole (hockey) world knows that the Preds were without Johansen and Fisher. But the Ducks had a surprise loss of their own, Rickard Rakell going out with a lower body injury. He vacated a space on the third (and sometimes the first) line and left a huge hole in the Ducks’ offense.

The Ducks would thus ice a first line that they had sometimes used, that being Getzlaf, Perry, and Ritchie. In fact, it was a trio that they had used quite successfully. In game one, Getzlaf, Perry, and Rakell had started. That had given way to Ritchie with the other two later. This line largely finished the night together and played together at times in game two. They won it, too, on Ritchie’s goal. So that was brought back to start game five.

But if that changed, at least one Ducks’ line stayed the same, the second: Kesler, Silfverberg, and Cogliano. Only problem was, they didn’t have anybody to check, with Johansen gone. OK, not quite true, but #92’s absence did kind of kill the narrative line that had been going since game one and had intensified with Johansen’s crabbing about Kesler’s style of play following the Nashville pair of games.

So who did that leave for Kesler to hassle? It would turn out that the Ducks’ checking line wouldn’t check very well on the eventual winning goal. They were out against the Forsberg-Sissons-Aberg line when the second Nashville goal was scored. But wait for that.

The Nashville lineup showed that only two lines had two original players on them, and they were lines three and four. Line one retained Forsberg but moved Aberg up from line two and Sissons up from three. Nashville’s second trio featured Colin Wilson staying put with the additions of Frederick Gaudreau drawing into the lineup and Austin Watson up from line four. So how’s that for pressure. Nine games’ experience. Your first playoff game. And you’re standing on the ice where the Captain normally stands. Yikes!

How’d he do? Well, no particularly meaningful statistical contribution in shots or hits, but faceoffs, incredibly well. He won ten and lost four, for 71%. His coach praised him afterwards, saying, “He had a terrific game. I think it’s really important that players out of the lineup, when they go in there, they contribute. Freddy went in there today ready after not being here towards the end of the year. . . . I thought he was good. He was excellent in the faceoff circle. He had to play good defense. He was strong on the puck. He tried to make plays. It was a good game that he threw in when we needed that. We put him in the middle. Obviously, we were minus Mike and Ryan tonight, two of our centermen that we rely on in all situations, and I thought that Freddy went in and did his job.”

Pontus Aberg said something similar when asked about playing in Milwaukee with Gaudreau and then playing a key role in this game. “We didn’t play a lot together. Power play. But I know what Freddy can bring. He’s a skilled player, and he showed that tonight.”

And the game itself? In period one neither goalie would let one in, but neither was either all that sparkling. Rinne was all over the ice at times, and he wasn’t tracking the puck well. Gibson was very poor on his rebounds, and he tried to play the puck at one point and got all bamboozled and ended up with two Nashville forwards—shorthanded—in his grill and each getting a shot.

He got up slowly after that, and while that’s not unusual, the flexing of his leg he was doing was, and he would not come out to start the second period. Bernier took his place.

As a result, the Predators poured it on in the first five minutes. They shortly were outshooting the Ducks 16-13 after period one had ended at ten apiece. Nothing went in, and Bernier looked every bit as big and steady as Gibson always does. I was already imagining the quotes after the game: “We know when we’ve got Bernie [using the nickname] back there, everything’s going to be fine.” Sounds like Getzlaf, right? But that was hours away. The game was nowhere close to decided at this stage.

Well, the goalie was good, and the Ducks then got the benefit of some power plays. They scored a goal, but it was even strength after the Predators had been down a man three times. It was an unlikely scorer in Wagner, who would later take little credit for his goal. “I think we had a four-on-three. I don’t know if Silvy [Silfverbert] was trying to pass to me, but it went to Monty [Montour], just a rebound laying there, and I happened to put it in the net.”

His reticence to talk about his own accomplishment came because the team would, as you already know, end up losing the game. The way they did it: passing up opportunities and generally failing to bring the energy they needed to the ice. Wagner would comment on that, too. “We got frustrated, couldn’t get the puck in the zone, not a lot of offense for us.” When he was asked why effort was an issue, he said, “I’m not really sure. You can take a look in the mirror. It’s on the individual to get yourself prepared, figure out where we are. It’s a privilege to be here. We’ve earned it, and we’ve got to take that opportunity and use it to the best of our advantage. We have two must-win games now, and we don’t really have a choice as to whether to bring it or not.”

They would enjoy the lead for about seven minutes before the Nashville team would tie the game with less than a minute to go in period two. It came on the power play by Colin Wilson. Contrary to what you might think, it wasn’t one of those last-minute goals that crushes the other team’s spirits. Just a PP goal. The Ducks showed no ill effects.

But it was Nashville that came out fast to start period three. Midway through, they got the go-ahead goal, when Forsberg put a puck to the net with Aberg headed there. Aberg crossed in front of the crease next to Bernier and scored on the rebound. He then was taken off the ice for concussion protocol.

After, he explained that his was not due to falling on the goal, but from a “face plant” he had done just before. That cost him a tooth. I think he meant he broke it, since he had a broken front one. But when asked about teeth, he said that this was the fourth such incident. “But the other ones are all fixed up,” he said.

So while he disappeared to the quiet room, the Preds kept at it. They got a late empty net goal, but that just sealed a fate that Anaheim brought on themselves.

How’d they blow it? Here’s an example. With about 2:20 left, Fowler got the puck in his own zone. He circled back before he got to his blueline. He did it again. Then he did it a third time.

Now, the Ducks Dmen had been doing a good job rushing the puck much of the evening. At one point, I thought that this was going to be like game two, when that had been much of the secret of disrupting Nashville and getting to Rinne. But this circling back by Fowler was an indication of the lack of push, coordinated effort, forwards going to the line with speed, or whatever else you want to label it.

After the game, Carlyle had to be trotted out to explain the why’s of it. “I don’t think the effort was not, uh, an issue from a standpoint. [sic] We had a good start. Our first power play gave us the energy. But our next power play, we had all kinds of looks, we had chances, but we just didn’t have any finish. I felt that the first pass was OK, but the second pass wasn’t. Or the first pass was in somebody’s feet. I felt that we didn’t get the looks with the puck in the prime areas that we have had in the last little while.”

Does that clear it up for you?

He also said that the Ducks allowed Rinne to play the puck far too much. He commented that they didn’t execute in the little things, and that they both got frustrated with the Preds’ neutral ice play and also ran out of gas. In other words, at this point, he was just naming the laundry list of stuff that went wrong, or didn’t. But he knew he had to say something.

So why did the Ducks lose? Because they passed up opportunities. There was more than one time when they could have gone to the net but went backwards with a pass. Because they didn’t press hard enough, but stayed on the outside in the Nashville zone. Getzlaf would also say that he himself passed up some shots, and that’s probably true, but it wasn’t he who failed. It was everybody. He indicated so afterwards: “I didn’t think our compete was where it needed to be. As a team, they came out and worked harder than us in periods two and three, and that was the difference in the hockey game.” That’s succinct. When asked to elaborate, he said, “Anytime you get a little bit complacent, where you’re not doing things properly, you try to do a little bit more than you should, so I know I had a couple of opportunities that I should have directed at the net but I tried to pass, so that’s something that I have to change before the next one.”

Old song, that one. And he was shooting more earlier in the playoffs. It was working.

One theory floated by a fellow member of the media puts a different look to it—this team just loves the drama. Why get ahead 3-2 when you can be behind and go into the hostile building to bring home a big win? Why not create a situation where you have to force a game seven, then come home to play that with all the expectations of your fans resting on every play?

Because it’s risky, that’s why. Nobody’s ever told these guys that, though, and so that’s what has to happen if the Ducks’ magical run doesn’t end two games short of the final series. But they’ve been there before, and it worked out. See “Edmonton series, game seven,” in the Ducks’ official history. (OK, I just made that up. But it happened. It did.)

What gives the Ducks hope? “Our group’s been trying to maintain the same level of confidence throughout this whole thing,” said the Captain. “We’ve been building as a group. We’ve been in some tough situations throughout this whole playoff, and we’ve got to be, we’re going to be going into one tomorrow.” Or Monday, as it were.

“We’ve got to go into a hostile building and play our best game of the year. I thought we had energy coming out, and it deteriorated throughout the game. We’ve got to do a better job with maintaining what we want to do, because they played hard tonight.”

If they can do that, in Nashville then back here, then the Cup will come to SoCal for the fourth time, at least for media day to start the Final. If not, well, this whole thing’s been fun, but just not quite long enough.

 

Notes

Injury updates came thick and fast from Coach Carlyle. He said Gibson had declared himself fit for the next game. He indicated that Rakell was day-to-day, and then he dropped a bomb: Same for Eaves. Reporters looked at each other a bit stunned.

So Eaves might be back. I saw him after the game—no boot, no limp. Fans sure hope that means he’ll be ready.

The Ducks will assess Gibson tomorrow and then Monday again to determine who can play, Carlyle said.

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