The Ducks brought up eight more minor league players yesterday to hang out and practice with the team during the playoffs. The so called “Black Aces” had a chance to watch goaltender Dan Ellis, who earned the third star of the week for his winning efforts against the Kings over weekend. It was not an inspired performance by either Ellis or the players in front of him in a 4-1 loss to Nashville in the first game of the quarterfinals.
Anaheim came out with a bit too much vim and vigor and found themselves in the penalty box far too often. When Nashville scored on the first power play opportunity of the evening, thanks to a bomb by Shea Weber from the point at 4:13 of the first period, the Ducks should have figured that they should avoid being down a man.
While Nashville is a team that can absolutely shut you down defensively, it was their last line of defense that did the best job for them. Pekke Rinne, in all his 6 foot 5 inch Finnish glory, refused to let anything get by him. An arm here, a flailing leg there, he came up big, literally and figuratively, for the Predators. Stopping 27 shots, the only one that got by him was a shot from Teemu Selanne at 11:24 of the third period. And that one occurred when the Predators where short by two skaters.
By then, the game was already over. In addition to Weber, Steve Sullivan put one by Ellis at 15:16 of the middle frame. Two goals from Mike Fisher (also known as Mr. Carrie Underwood) at 18:08 of the second and :56 seconds into the third, sent Ellis to the bench.
Ray Emery, who has been dealing with the ever nebulous “lower body injury” was good enough to be sent in to play the remainder of the game. That leaves open the question of who starts on Friday evening for game 2?
“I didn’t think it really got away from us until about the middle of the second period,” said coach Randy Carlyle. “We started to play as individuals. We got frustrated with our lack of execution. They did a very good job of getting inside and making it very difficult to get to the net. The pucks bounced away versus bouncing for us. I don’t think you can say we were happy with too many aspects of our game.”
Nashville, who has never won a playoff series, was thrilled to get the first game in their favor. They also do not expect the Ducks to remain in self-combust mode.
“That’s huge — getting the first one,” Fisher said. “It feels good, but that second one is going to be even harder. We know that they’re going to adjust and regroup and play real hard here in a couple of nights.”
The Ducks certainly have a better idea of what they need to do defeat Nashville.
“They’re a very stingy hockey team,” said Ellis, a former Predator himself. “They really swarm you. They do a good job of putting pressure on guys. They’re out to the points and stuff like that. They don’t allow a lot of point shots through, and the ones that do get through, a lot of times they’ll block and clear away. We really have to outwork that team.”
The Ducks have Thursday to regroup and Friday to redeem themselves in game 2. Anaheim certainly does not want to head back to Nashville down 2-0 in the series, but you can safely bet the Predators would be ecstatic if that were the case. There is a reason why these series are seven games. It is a marathon, not a sprint, but the Ducks will have to get their running shoes on if they want to catch up.