Nashville upsets Anaheim with memorable Game 7 win

ByPierre LeBrun ESPN logo
Friday, May 13, 2016

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Nashville Predators have teased us for years but haven't had many actual playoff moments that your memory bank stores in a special place.

Until now, that is.

With all due respect to their first-round win over Detroit in 2012, against an aging Red Wings team they were actually the higher seed against, this seven-game upset series win over the Pacific Division-champion Anaheim Ducks is Nashville's postage stamp moment.

"It means a lot," Predators goalie Pekka Rinne said after leading his team to a 2-1 Game 7 win on Wednesday night. "It shows a lot of character. I think as a group we can learn from this series. It's a really good team we played against. There's a lot of good things we can take from this series.

"Just moving forward I think we're a better team already after this series and after this Game 7.''

The Predators move north up the Pacific Coast Highway for a second-round date with the San Jose Sharks, and no doubt again will be made underdogs.

Which is just fine with them. They fed off that against Anaheim, a team many people picked to win the Cup this season.

"It's a great feeling. I don't know if anyone picked us, really," Predators winger James Neal said. "But we had belief in our locker room, and that's all you need.''

The underdog role fits them perfectly.

"We'd rather fly under the radar, and just kind of do our own business," captain Shea Weber said. "It's kind of the way we go. We don't need to be in the limelight. Hopefully we can keep proving that we're a good team.''

Rinne was outstanding Wednesday night in stopping 36 shots but the story of this series was how Weber and the Preds' defense corps limited time and space away from Anaheim's deep forward group. It was truly unreal to watch in person how the Ducks struggled to gain a foothold around Rinne's crease all series.

"They did a great job of boxing out,'' Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau agreed after the Game 7 loss. "We talked about it between the second and third period that it's great to get chances but we got to play in the inside or we're not getting quality chances. Their defense, they use basically just the four of them, they did a great job of boxing out; and they blocked 24 shots [as a team], too.

"So I mean, it was a combination of those two things.''

And what of Boudreau, now? He has presided behind the bench over a Ducks team that four years in a row has won the Pacific Division only to lose out in the playoffs each of those years after being up 3-2 in a series and losing Game 7 at home.

It is beyond belief as a storyline. But it is reality. And it's hard not to think it may not cost Boudreau his job, even though some of his star players must shoulder the blame for this series loss as well.

"I have no idea," Boudreau said when asked about potential changes. "I haven't thought about it. As far as my future, I just come to work every day until I'm told not to come to work. And I think the team, especially the last half of the year, they believed what the expectations were and what they were supposed to be. The playoffs are a tough thing. There are 16 really good teams, and especially in the West, any of those eight teams that made it were good enough to win it.''

Well, he's got a point there. Chicago and L.A., the two teams who have combined to win five of the past six Stanley Cups, were ousted in the opening round. Anaheim was a favored pick to go deep after going to the Western Conference finals last year. They're out.

It's a new day in the Western Conference.

But it's a cold reality for a Ducks team that, from Day 1 of training camp, talked about challenging for a Cup.

"Obviously, we had bigger expectations than going out in the first round," said Ducks center Ryan Kesler, who was outstanding in this series and scored his team's lone goal Wednesday night. "It's a terrible feeling. I don't feel like we should be done right now. I feel like we should be going on. It's one game and anything can happen, and it did. When you outbattle a team like we did tonight -- really had the better scoring chances and outplayed them -- to fall short, it's tough.''

Yes, the Ducks outshot the Predators 37-20 in Game 7 and spent most of the final two periods in their zone. This wasn't a timid Game 7 performance like perhaps we've seen in the past from Anaheim.

"At least we went out there and gave it our all," Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said. "We tried everything we could to get that next goal. At least you can leave the ice knowing you left it out there in the end.''

But this is a result-oriented business. The Ducks have the talent to go deep. A first-round exit doesn't cut it.

Corey Perry held his head in his hands in the Ducks' locker room Wednesday night. His despair was visible. No goals in seven games is certainly one of the reasons Anaheim is headed home too early.

But he's not alone. For a team that had the best record in the NHL from Christmas on, that finished first in the league in goals against and in special teams, a first-round loss -- with all due respect to Nashville -- cannot be accepted by Ducks management.

Changes will come.

"We've got a good group in here," Kesler said. "Every year there's changes. My job is to play hockey. Obviously there will be changes, there always is. It's tough to see teammates go. ...

"We expected a lot better fate today and this year.''

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