You could say that the Anaheim Ducks gave it their best. Or they at least gave their best every opportunity to get them beyond the Western Conference quarterfinals.
It did not work out.
In the four games they won, capped by Sunday’s series-clinching 4-2 victory at Bridgestone Arena, the Nashville Predators outscored the Ducks 7-4 in the third period. They got a game-winning goal from Mike Fisher with fewer than 10 minutes to play in Game 3, a game-trying goal from Shea Weber in the final minute of regulation in Game 5 and outscored Anaheim 2-0 over the final 20 minutes of the series clincher.
“They were playing an extremely short bench and we thought that as the game went on, it was to our advantage,” Predators left wing Steve Sullivan said. “You can’t play 27 minutes a night in this league and expect to have some left in the tank to be able to make a difference in a hockey game. You just can’t do it.”
Three Anaheim forwards averaged better than 20 minutes in the six games, which were contested over 12 days. Two others were on the ice for more than 18 minutes per game.
By comparison, Nashville used only one of its forwards, center David Legwand, more than 20 minutes per night. Just two others averaged more than 18 minutes.
Anaheim left wing Corey Perry led all players in the series with eight points (two goals, six assists) and was first among all forwards — by a wide margin — in average ice time (25:15). Center Ryan Getzlaf was next among forwards at an average of 24:01 per game on the ice and finished with six points (two goals, four assists).
“You knew they were coming back with their top guys over and over again, so we just tried to extend our bench a little bit to try to handle them,” coach Barry Trotz said. “The Perrys and Getzlafs were playing 27 minutes a night, and we don’t really have a forward that does that. … It was a solid effort by everybody.”
• Getting easier?: In a way, Trotz feels like the hardest part is now past for the Predators.
“I’ll tell you what, the first round is the hardest round to get through — it always is,” Trotz said. “It’s just because everything’s ramped up and the vitality of the fans that the [first] series is really, really hard. Not that the next series isn’t going to be hard, but that first one — mentally — is hard to get through. Then you find out you [need to] come to work and let it go; come to work and let it go. And you just move forward.”
It has not been as difficult for some of the league’s other youngest franchises as it was for Nashville.
Anaheim made it out of the first round in its first postseason appearance (1997) as did San Jose (1994), both of which made the second round in their first try. Florida made it all the way to the finals in 1996, and more recently Minnesota reached the conference final in 2003.
“Getting our first series win in the playoffs is huge,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “… But [we have to] be ready for the next opponent.”
• Scoring drought: Sergei Kostitsyn led the Predators with 23 goals during the regular season but was one of only two Nashville forwards who did not have a goal against the Ducks.
The other was Blake Geoffrion, who avaerged just over 10 shifts per game, which was a little less than 40 percent of the number of times Kostitsyn went over the wall.
Since the start of December, when he assumed a more prominent role, Kostitsyn had only one stretch of more than five games without a goal — 10 games from Feb. 24 through March 15.
Kostitsyn attempted just four shots against the Ducks. He also tied for the team lead with four assists.
That was in stark contrast to the regular season, when he played just two of four games against the Ducks but had three goals and an assist.
• Quote of note: “The [fifth] game in Anaheim — them scoring with 35 seconds left — kind of put a dagger in us.” — Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle.
• Briefly: With his game-winning goal in the series opener, Sullivan joined Adam Hall and J-P Dumont as the only players with two game-winning playoff goals for the Predators. Nashville’s last eight postseason victories have included game-winning goals from eight different players. … Patric Hornqvist set a Nashville record with 29 shots on goal in the series. Jason Arnott set the previous mark of 26 last year. … Forwards scored 18 of Nashville’s 22 goals in the series (81.8 percent), which was almost identical to the regular season when the forwards accounted for 82.6 percent of the goals.