When it comes to this lovely time of the year, hockey tends to vamp up to unprecedented intensity, and Anaheim's first-round showdown is no exception to this idea.
After Anaheim struggled to barely hold onto their seventh seed, they ended up winning the last two games of their season, managing to wiggle up to the coveted fourth spot in the West ensuring their home ice advantage in round one.
Anaheim fell to Nashville three of four games this season, so what is there to expect from this series?
A lot of what people are expecting out of this series will be falling onto the shoulders of the goaltenders for each team.
There is little to no question that Nashville will give Pekka Rinne the nod for the starts in the postseason, however the goaltending situation is much more unclear in Anaheim, but we'll get to that in a bit. Rinne was in goal for all three of Nashville's wins over Anaheim during the regular season, and has had an unbelievable year, sporting an impressive 2.12 goals against average, and a .930 save percentage.
On the other side of the rink, Anaheim has been a team of nothing but question marks when it comes to the goaltender situation. All-Star, Jonas Hiller, has been recovering from fatigue and lightheadedness for several weeks now, leaving the goalie job up for grabs between Dan Ellis and Ray Emery, both who have stepped it up recently.
So, all-in-all, between Pekka Rinne backstopping the Preds, and either Emery, Ellis, or possibly Hiller, backing up the Ducks, these games are almost sure to be decided by just a single goal, and scoreboards won't be tallying too many goals per game.
When it comes to regular season statistics, the Nashville Captain, Shea Weber, is the leader of ice time from either team with an impressive 25:19, and an average of 29.0 shifts per game.
Shea Weber leads the Predators defenders in goals, points, powerplay goals, and shorthanded goals, making him a lethal weapon to be present on the ice as much as he is. This may seem like a pretty standard expectation for a captain and number one defender of a team like Nashville.
Weber's counterpart on the Ducks would have to be Anaheim's number one defender as well. Lubomir Visnovsky leads the Anaheim Ducks in ice time with an average of 24:17 per game.
So in the playoffs, expect to see a lot of Shea Weber and Lubomir Visnovksy, but more Weber-time because the postseason is heavily influenced by defenders, and Weber can be a key component in how the series turns out.
This might be a bit of an unexpected prediction, but I really think that Perry, the Rocket Richard Trophy winner for the most goals in the regular season, will have more assists than goals in this series.
Allow me to explain.
When it comes to playing against a goaltender like Pekka Rinne who is known for playing very smart positional goaltending, a team has to find ways to set up screens and run plays to catch him off-guard.
In terms of screening goaltenders, Corey Perry is second to none in the league. Also, with Perry taking the Rocket Richard title, the Preds know that he is a huge threat, and will end up shutting him down, opening the door for his linemates, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan to step in and score some goals.
Against Rinne, Anaheim will need more depth scorers to step up, and defenders like Visnovksy, Fowler, and Beauchemin could help to answer the call. So there's not much debate that Perry will score and rack in the points, but I don't think Perry will lead the series in goals.
In the playoffs, it could prove to be a huge mistake to rely on special teams, specifically powerplay opportunities.
In reality, Anaheim is a pretty highly penalized team, and because of that, a huge piece of this series is going to be how the Anaheim penalty killers manage against Nashville's mediocre-at-best, 26th ranked powerplay unit. Anaheim's penalty killers are ranked a respectable 19th with an 81.3 percent.
Then when you flip it and check out the other scenario, with Anaheim on the brighter side of a 5-on-4, Anaheim has a lethal powerplay, currently ranked third in the league at a 23.5 percent success rate, however Nashville has an impressive penalty killing stat with an 84.9 percent ranking them fifth in the league.
All-in-all, this series could really come down to the impact of the special teams, and because of that, it will be as far as each team's penalty killers can carry them.
Call me biased if you will, but from where I'm sitting, Anaheim is hot right now, and even though Nashville closed out the season well, Anaheim closed it out slightly better.
Anaheim ended the regular season with a three game winning streak, and on the contrary, Nashville ended the regular season on a low note by getting shutout against the St. Louis Blues.
Because of the different ends to the regular season for each team, the final prediction I am making is that Anaheim will win this series in 7 games total. Home ice advantage could help to play a role in this series, but all in all Anaheim will win the series and move on.