ANAHEIM, Calif. — They may not admit it, but the Anaheim Ducks are tired. It showed in the first period of the Western Conference Final against the Nashville Predators.
“We weren’t ready to start the game,” said defenseman Hampus Lindholm after the Ducks overtime loss. “We lost the game in the first period. They were on us the whole period. We didn’t really get to breathe.”
Over the past 15 days, the Ducks have played seven hockey games; in addition to trekking back and forth between Southern California and Edmonton a couple times. Dead legs aren’t unexpected, but they’re coming at the worst time of the year.
“I don’t think any guy in here is going to make excuses, said Nate Thompson. “[Nashville] came and they took it to us in the first period.”
The Predators came to Anaheim on four days of rest, and it it showed.
“It did in the first for sure,” said Randy Carlyle. “I don’t know if we could look past our start. I think we were shot 12-1, something like that … they kind of dominated us, and we didn’t move our feet and get ourselves going.”
Carlyle was close. The Preds outshot the Ducks 15-6 in the first period.
For a while, Anaheim had one shot on goal, and incidentally, the lead. Jakob Silfverberg snipes a shot top shelf on Pekka Rinne.
From there it felt like just a matter of time before the Predators got one of their own. Over midway through, Filip Forsberg redirected a shot past John Gibson to tie the game.
Despite coming out on the losing end, Gibson had an outstanding night. The Ducks netminder made 43 saves; setting a new playoff-career high.
“Gibson was really good,” added Thompson. “If it wasn’t for him, the score could have been different.”
It appeared the Ducks were in for more of the same in the second when Austin Watson netted a near perfect shot from along the boards. Nashville still outshot Anaheim 17-11 in the second frame, but the Ducks seemed to wake up a bit.
“If you look at the first period, they really came on us with a lot of pressure. We knew it was going to happen,” said John Gibson. “We got used to it as the game went on. We got better as the game went on.”
“We were starting to make plays out of our zone. We were forechecking and playing our game,” said Thompson. “We were creating havoc in front of Rinne. Once we did that, it started giving us momentum.”
It started with Lindholm tying the game on a faceoff win by Thompson in the third.
And all the positive momentum generated by it was quickly dashed with two consecutive delay of game penalties giving the Predators a 5-on-3 for 1:28.
The Ducks managed to kill it off and that brought the crowd to life in Honda Center.
“It was a big moment of the game,” added Thompson. “I thought our penalty kill was a big plus for us tonight.” That’s really saying something considering the Ducks penalty kill has been abysmal the entire playoffs, dropping to a 69-percent (nice) success rate.
Anaheim pressured Rinne and the Preds in the final minute of regulation, but were unable to convert.
Nashville continued to press the Ducks in overtime. Midway through, a shot by James Neal deflected off Corey Perry’s outstretched glove and into the net.
It’s just back luck for the Ducks. Not something they’re unaccustomed to. As Gibson said, “It’s been going on all playoffs. [This is] no different.”
Always the philosopher, Gibson added, “We weren’t our best [tonight]. We lost in overtime.”
The Ducks have one day to tweak their game before hitting the ice for Game 2 on Sunday afternoon. Practice is scheduled for Saturday, and it’ll be interesting to see just how hard Carlyle works the tired team.
If they want to to get off to the good start they’ve been talking about since the Edmonton series, it might take more rest and less practice to make it happen.