Ducks tune up for Rinne and the Preds

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - GREG BEACHAM

ANA­HEIM, CALIF. — The Ana­heim Ducks fi­nally cleared a ma­jor psy­cho­log­i­cal hur­dle with their gritty Game 7 vic­tory over Ed­mon­ton on Wed­nes­day night. Af­ter four con­sec­u­tive years of fail­ure in win­ner-take-all show­downs, they stood up to an up­start op­po­nent and fin­ished a se­ries strong.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a re­lief, but the fact we don’t have to talk about it any­more, that’s a good thing,” cap­tain Ryan Get­zlaf said.

Get­zlaf also said this par­tic­u­lar party is al­ready over, how­ever.

Ana­heim has just two days to pre­pare to face another daunt­ing ob­sta­cle from its play­off past: a six­foot-five Fin­nish goalie with a knack for stop­ping the Ducks in their play­off tracks.

Nashville’s Pekka Rinne ran Ana­heim out of the first round last sea­son for the sec­ond time in his ca­reer, and he re­turns with the surg­ing Preda­tors for Game 1 of the Western Con­fer­ence fi­nals on Friday.

The Ducks have been the hap­less foils for some of the best mo­ments in Nashville fran­chise his­tory — and for Rinne, who al­ways seems to find his inim­itable top form against Ana­heim.

Rinne and the Preda­tors ousted the Ducks in six games in 2011 for their first ever play­off se­ries vic­tory. Five years later, Nashville stole the first two games of the clubs’ firstround se­ries at Honda Cen­ter be­fore win­ning the fi­nal two, in­clud­ing a nail-bit­ing 2-1 vic­tory in a Game 7 dom­i­nated by Rinne.

“They’re a great team, and they’ve done a re­ally good job in the play­offs this sea­son and against us in the past,” said Ana­heim for­ward An­drew Cogliano, who scored the ty­ing goal in Game 7. “It’s go­ing to be another big chal­lenge go­ing for­ward.”

Both of the West fi­nal­ists are per­haps over­due to be re­warded for years of pa­tient progress with a Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal trip. Ana­heim hasn’t made the fi­nal round in a decade de­spite ic­ing one of the NHL’s most con­sis­tently strong teams, while the Preda­tors are in their first con­fer­ence fi­nals in the club’s 10th trip to the post-sea­son since 2004.

No­body gets any­thing in the Stan­ley Cup play­offs with­out a grind, and these two teams are on it. They’ve com­bined for the best two records in this post-sea­son, los­ing only five com­bined games.

The Ducks should feel a swell of con­fi­dence af­ter out­last­ing the Oil­ers. Ana­heim had lost four straight Game 7 ap­pear­ances over­all since 2006, but the Ducks played a stel­lar de­fen­sive game against Con­nor McDavid and Leon Drai­saitl be­fore win­ning it on power for­ward Nick Ritchie’s third-pe­riod goal.

And the way the Ducks ral­lied was even more im­pres­sive. They fell be­hind the Oil­ers just 3:31 into this sev­enth game, but the rest of the night largely be­longed to Ana­heim, which fi­nally showed some vet­eran met­tle in the play­offs’ big­gest cru­cible.

“We were down 1-0 for a lit­tle bit, and we didn’t panic,” Ritchie said. “We ac­tu­ally started to play bet­ter once they scored, and we got another one and then we kind of brought it home with good de­fen­sive hockey.”

Big-game re­silience hasn’t al­ways been Ana­heim’s strength dur­ing the past half-decade. De­spite hav­ing home-ice ad­van­tage to start 10 straight play­off se­ries since 2009, the five-time de­fend­ing Pa­cific Divi­sion cham­pi­ons had blown a 3-2 se­ries lead four straight times be­fore hold­ing off Ed­mon­ton.

The Ducks aren’t will­ing to say they’ve found new play­off tough­ness, but their re­newed vigour in this par­tic­u­lar post-sea­son is ex­em­pli­fied by Get­zlaf, whose first two rounds were among the best of the 2007 Stan­ley Cup cham­pion’s long play­off ca­reer.

GINA FERAZZI, TNS

The Ana­heim Ducks cel­e­brate their 2-1 win against the Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers to ad­vance to the Western Con­fer­ence Fi­nal.

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