ANAHEIM — Please step forward Anaheim Ducks and meet your polar opposites.
When the Western Conference playoff race finally ran out of games last weekend and the Ducks — through a combination of success and other team’s failures — leaped from seventh to fourth place, they found themselves matched against the fifth-place Nashville Predators beginning Wednesday night at Honda Center.
Nashville, unlike the Ducks, hasn’t spent the last week wondering who will start in goal and how long he’ll last between the posts.
Up front, they couldn't be more different. The leading scorer for the Predators has 23 goals. Corey Perry of the Ducks has more than twice that many.
And when it comes to the postseason, Nashville has never advanced past the first round in four appearances, owning an overall mark of 6-16. The Ducks have advanced past the opening series in five of seven postseason appearances, including a run to the Stanley Cup title in 2007. They are 51-39 in playoff games.
Numbers and personnel aside, several of the Ducks said after practice Tuesday that the key, simple as it sounds, will be out-working the Predators from start to finish.
“We’re going to have to be prepared, when that puck drops, to be giving 110 percent,” coach Randy Carlyle said. “There’s no room for error.”
For all his skill and finishing ability, Perry said the key to generating offense will be forcing the Predators to chase the puck in their defensive zone and then slowly wearing them down on the forecheck.
“We’re going to maybe create some turnovers,” he said. “It’s a matter of just doing what we’ve been doing all year.”
The biggest obstacle for the Ducks will be Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne, a 6-foot-5 Fin who finished second in the league in save percentage (.930) and third in goals-against average (2.12). Those are very near his lifetime numbers against Anaheim. He has won six of eight career meetings against the Ducks.
“He’s a huge, big goalie,” said Ducks forward Teemu Selanne. “We have to make sure that he can’t see all the pucks. Obviously we have to make perfect shots to score but that’s nothing new.”
The Predators also feature one of the top two-way defense pairs in the league in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, who in the past have been handed the task of stopping the high-scoring Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan line.
“You’ve got to make sure you know where they are because they both get involved offensively,” Carlyle said. “Every time you have an opportunity to stop progression, you stop progression. You know that they’re going to play big minutes. You know they’re going to play in all of their key situations.”
The Ducks will also need to continue taking advantage of their opportunities. They have six power-play goals in the last three games, helping them finish 3-0 and earn home-ice advantage for the first round.
Carlyle also stressed the importance of a fast start.
“I don’t think you can stress how important starts are,” he said. “One goal, one penalty, one scoring chance, one body check can make the difference.”