Western Conference finals begin in Anaheim

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Since I don’t expect a whole lot of scoring early on in this series while these two teams feel each other out, expect the Rinne-Gibson duel to be in the spotlight.

A violent head shot by Jared Boll on Nashville’s Calle Jamkrok fired up the crowd, but Rinne dampened the enthusiasm, making a special save on Ryan Kesler from the slot.

Then again, so do the Penguins.

Nashville twice won Game 1 and went on to claim the previous two series with major help from Rinne, who usually has been at his inimitable best when facing the Ducks’ scorers. Nashville had the past four days off after eliminating the Blues to cap its 8-2 surge through the first two rounds.

The Western Conference Final begins in Anaheim tonight with an interesting rematch of last season’s first round series between the Ducks and Predators.

For Anaheim, their game-seven win was a massive breakthrough.

P.K. Subban got the puck at the left point after a scramble in front was knocked back. “So I don’t know how many choices they have”. Rendered a well-compensated backup at midseason, the starting job is Fleury’s even with Matt Murray fully recovered from a lower-body injury suffered during warmups before Game 1 of the Columbus series.

Though Anaheim struck first, the first period belonged to Nashville.

Nashville took advantage of the worn out Ducks early with goals by Austin Watson and Filip Forsberg, who tipped Matt Irwin’s shot through traffic midway through the first period. By then, the Predators had been outshooting the Ducks 13-1.

In the second period, Ryan Johansen found Austin Watson with a cross-ice pass that the Predators winger one-timed past a helpless Gibson.

Rinne and the Predators also beat the Ducks in 2011 for the first playoff series victory in franchise history.

This is a very risky team.

“I think our opponents have probably made us work to try to bring out the best of ourselves”, Laviolette said. Their advantage in this series is speed and they need to leverage it at every opportunity. “Any time you have a chance to play against them, you know it’s going to be a battle”. They had no legs.

If they keep winning, they will become known as “Rocky” on skates.

Eaves cemented himself as an integral part of the Ducks’ offense after being acquired at the National Hockey League trade deadline, and his physical brand of play would actually go a long way against a team like Nashville. Ryan Kesler used his stick as though he was playing lacrosse. The captain, Ryan Getzlaf, has shouldered a heavy load playing in all areas of the ice and every conceivable situation with equal aplomb.

That was the lone highlight, though, in a forgettable opening period for the Ducks. But even with back-to-back power plays in the second, Anaheim had trouble getting much past Rinne. Three straight goals by Washington in the third put them ahead 5-0 and set the stage for Game 7, though the Penguins added two late third-period goals in the 5-2 final. It wasn’t exactly surprising. With one of the playoffs’ worst save percentages and goals-against averages, John Gibson hadn’t really distinguished himself this spring until Game 7 against Edmonton, when he was outstanding in a 2-1 win.

Rinne could not save them all, however.

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But the Ducks controlled the second period and got the game tied with a goal by Andrew Cogliano.

Western Conference finals begin in Anaheim

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