Western Conference quarterfinals
Ducks (2-2) vs. Nashville Predators (2-2) at Honda Center, 7 p.m. PT
Five storylines to track:
1. Getting hot in here: This series has officially reached its boiling point. Martin Erat, one of Nashville’s best players, was injured as a result of a late hit in Game 4 by career agitator Jarkko Ruutu, and both will miss tonight’s game. That’s a bad trade off for the Predators in the first place, but the Ducks also get Bobby Ryan back from a two-game suspension following his now-famous stomp on the foot of Nashville rookie Jonathon Blum in Game 2. The finger-pointing from both sides began last weekend but reached new heights Thursday.
2. Ryan’s return: Ryan showed some definite line-dancing potential with his foot stomp in Game 2, but that’s not why the Ducks pay him. He scored 34 goals during the regular season, twice as many as Erat, and two more in Game 2. While the Ducks missed his contributions the last two games, they did manage to earn a split in Nashville and regain home-ice advantage. Ryan should also have some extra jump in his step from the added down time, which just made him simmer. “I’ll certainly have a little fire lit under me,” he said.
3. And then there’s Teemu: With all the barbs flying between camps, the remarkable run of Teemu Selanne has become a bit of a sideshow. But the speedy right wing, who is a lot closer to age 41 than 40, has a career-high five playoff goals in just four games, which also leads the NHL this postseason. Selanne is taking every inch that Nashville gives, scoring four of his goals on the power play. With one less defender on the ice, Selanne is taking advantage of his ability to find holes near the Predators net and get off swift, pin-point accurate shots on Nashville goalkeeper Pekka Rinne.
4. Rinne’s gone downhill: Rinne began the playoffs looking like the Rock of Gibraltar but has been more of a rolling stone the last three games, allowing 13 goals in that span. After finishing second in the league in save percentage during the regular season (.930) and third in goals-against average (2.12), Rinne’s numbers have surged to .860 and 3.74 in the playoffs. Rinne got word Friday that he is one of three finalists for the Vezina Trophy, which goes to the league’s top goaltender…in the regular season.
5. Nashville needs a surge: Heading into the series, the Ducks had a tough time against Nashville forward Sergei Kostitsyn, allowing three goals and an assist in the last two regular-season games. They’ve done a better job of keeping him out of the net in this series, though he has totaled four assists. With Erat out of action, the Predators will need Kostitsyn to step up his production and look more like the player who scored a team-high 23 goals during the regular season. Kostitsyn signed a one-year deal for a bargain-basement price of $550,000 in the offseason, so it would benefit him to pick up the pace as well.