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Western Conference Final: 5 Things To Watch

Posted: 9:15 AM, May 12, 2017
Updated: 2017-05-12 14:15:01Z

The Predators will make history tonight when they take the ice against the Ducks for the first Western Conference Final game in franchise history. 

A series that has been 18 years in the making will give the Preds a chance to further cement themselves as the darlings of the spring in Nashville and around the NHL. Here are five things to watch as the series gets underway. 

REVENGE FACTOR

This is a rematch of an opening round series from a year ago in which the Predators eliminated the Ducks with a gutsy 2-1 game seven road win at the Honda Center. 

You can bet the Ducks haven't forgotten that disappointment, but after exercising their game seven demons (four straight losses) with a win over the Oilers Wednesday, they now stand four wins away from a Western Conference title. 

The Preds downplayed any revenge motives the Ducks might have Thursday. At this point of the playoffs, every win puts you one step closer to your ultimate goal. Who you're playing should be irrelevant. 

But after a grueling seven-game duel a year ago, expect tensions to be high right from the start of this series. 

FAST STARTS

Notoriously slow starters throughout the regular season, the Predators have jumped on opponents in the playoffs, both in games and in the series. 

Nashville has scored first in seven of its 10 playoff games, posting a 6-1 record in those games. Game one wins at Chicago and St. Louis account for two of those wins. 

Those road victories helped set the tone for each series and the Blackhawks and Blues never recovered. 

A game one road win against the Ducks could have a similar effect, and an early goal could go a long way to helping the Preds accomplish just that. 

NO PLACE LIKE SMASHVILLE

There has been no more exciting place during the Stanley Cup Playoffs than Bridgestone Arena. 

From famous national anthem singers like Carrie Underwood and Lady Antebellum to ear-splitting crowds and the non-stop party going on in and outside of the arena, Smashville has drawn rave reviews throughout the NHL. 

The Predators have certainly enjoyed the home ice advantage. While all other teams have posted a below .500 record at home during the playoffs, the Preds are a perfect 5-0 through two rounds. They've won a league best nine straight playoff games dating back to game six of the Ducks series last year. 

There is an aura around the Preds when they skate onto the Bridgestone ice in these playoffs. As long as that air of invincibility continues, they're going to be tough to beat. 

PEKKA PERFECT

If the playoffs ended today, one could make a good argument Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne should win the Conn Smythe as MVP. 

Rinne has paced the Preds' playoff run, leading all goalies with a .951 save percentage and 1.34 goals against average. 

Contrast that with Ducks' 23-year-old netminder John Gibson's .908 save percentage and a goals against average of more than 2.0 and it appears to be one area where Nashville has a clear advantage. 

If Rinne continues his near flawless play, the Predators will have a great chance to advance. 

DUCKS DEPTH

The Ducks figure to offer the Predators their most physical test of the postseason with physical forwards and an aggressive forecheck. But Anaheim could also pose matchup problems with their depth in lines. 

Through two rounds the Preds have proven to be deeper than either the Blackhawks or Blues, able to roll four lines over the boards. Thirteen different players have scored goals in the playoffs, including eight different players scoring game-winners through their eight playoff wins. 

That will be more of a challenge against a Ducks team that also features four lines that can produce. Top line center Ryan Getzlaf has scored eight goals in the postseason and Jakob Silfverberg isn't far behind with seven. Corey Perry leads the team with seven assists. 

Anaheim will try to create the type of front of the net traffic that helped the Blues have some success against the Predators in round two and, unlike St. Louis, has the talent in the middle of the ice up and down their lines to force the action to the middle of the ice and make life difficult on an opposing goaltender. 

PREDICTION: Predators in 6

Nashville is confident, rested and ready. If it can steal an early game in Anaheim against a potentially weary Ducks team it should be in great shape. Rinne continues his postseason for the ages and the Preds punch their tickets to their first ever Stanley Cup Final.