First-round breakdown: Ducks-Preds
The Ducks ride the explosive offense of their top line, led by Hart Trophy candidate and Rocket Richard winner Corey Perry. The Predators stress defense first with arguably the NHL's best blue-line tandem in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.
Nashville won the season series, taking three of four games, but the Ducks have been one of the hottest teams in the league over the final stretch (15-5-0 to finish the regular season). They were 11th in the West before that run and climbed all the way to fourth. It's been do-or-die hockey for two months or so.
"Yeah, it has been," Perry said Sunday in a call with ESPN.com and The Orange County Register. "We know what's at stake. We've been doing it for the last two months."
The Predators have never reached the second round, although they sure gave eventual Cup champion Chicago a scare last spring. The Ducks return to the playoffs after missing out last season.
1. Perry's MVP-worthy season: The Preds have to find a way to cool off the hottest player in the game and the league's only 50-goal scorer this season. Perry put up 19 goals and 31 points in his final 20 games to propel the Ducks into a playoff spot.
"Of the players who have come through the last little while, and especially the last few months, he has been as good as anybody," Predators coach Barry Trotz told The Tennessean on Sunday. "And if I had a vote, he would be my MVP vote, obviously, for the [Western Conference]."
2. What about Nashville's Hart and Vezina candidate?: Netminder Pekka Rinne has been all-world for the Preds. The Ducks will need to persevere to get pucks past him, by screening him as much as possible and polishing off rebound chances. If he see it, he'll stop it.
3. The wily veteran: Perry has understandably received most of the attention in Anaheim, but there's an old goat who has put together a ridiculous season for a 40-year-old. Teemu Selanne's 80 points (31-49) in 73 games is one of the best stories the league has had in 2010-11; but, more importantly for this series, he provides the Ducks with a dangerous second-line threat.
"Teemu just keeps getting better with age," Perry said. "It looks like he's 20 years old out there. You can't say enough about him."
4. A strong defense: The Predators were the third-stingiest team for goals allowed per game this season. No surprise there. Last postseason, the Blackhawks struggled with Nashville's suffocating style early in their series. The Ducks know what's coming.
"You have to be patient," Perry said. "You can't force things, especially against them, they're going to hurt you. We just played them a couple of weeks ago and they sat back and waited for their chances and they capitalized."
5. Weber's presence: The Norris Trophy candidate was only two points off his team's scoring lead this season. He's a weapon from the point and the Ducks will have to be aware when he's on the ice.
"I know Shea personally and we've played together a few times [for Team Canada]," Perry said. "He's a great player. He's got a hell of a shot and we have to be careful with him. He's dangerous."
• Shea Weber and Ryan Suter versus Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan: It's Nashville's shutdown pair, maybe the best in the NHL, versus the hottest line in the league. Now that's a juicy matchup.
Mind you, seeing the opposition's top defensive pairing is nothing new for Perry and his linemates. They're used to that attention.
"Normally, we do match up against the top defensive pairing," he said. "We know how to play against that. You look at any team we play against, we're going up against Nick Lidstroms or Shea Webers. We look forward to it."
• Anaheim: Ray Emery or Jonas Hiller or Dan Ellis? The Ducks' goalie situation has been in flux in the second half. Yet, regardless of who has been in net, Anaheim has continued to win. It's not clear whether Emery (lower-body injury) will be ready for Game 1. Hiller (vertigo) continues to practice, but what can you really expect from him given his limited activity in the second half? Ellis was terrific this past weekend in a pair of wins over Los Angeles. Who will be the masked hero in goal for Anaheim?
• Nashville: J.P. Dumont's 19 points (10-9) in 70 games this season was his worst offensive output over a full season in his entire career (he had 18 points in 47 games in 1999-2000). Will the veteran winger use the playoffs as his salvation?
• Anaheim is the team no one wanted to face in the first round, but the resilient and hard-working Predators aren't pushovers. Ducks in six.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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