Nashville Predators 5, Anaheim Ducks 2
Predators use big first period to stun Ducks
ANAHEIM - It took fewer than 18 minutes for the Anaheim Ducks to have a full-blown goalie controversy on their hands.
After three games off to get some rest, Anaheim goalie Jonas Hiller allowed four goals on nine shots and was briefly replaced by Frederik Andersen in a 5-2 loss to the Nashville Predators on Friday night at Honda Center.
The drama turned serious when Hiller went back in net to start the third period because of Andersen had what the team termed an upper-body injury. Coach Bruce Boudreau said Andersen had "a little bit of a headache" from a shot by Nashville defenseman Shea Weber and that "I think he's going to be fine."
Boudreau acknowledged concern about Hiller's play but also placed fault on his defense. The Ducks have five games remaining, beginning Sunday on the road against the Edmonton Oilers, to figure out their goalie for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"Right now it's hard to determine," Boudreau said. "We've got five more games. Let's say how everything [plays] out. [It's] a lot like baseball -- who the opposition is going to be and what the records of the goalies are against them. How they're playing going into the playoffs is obviously going to be a factor but, I mean, it's too early to tell."
The Ducks came back from 4-0 and 2-0 deficits against the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers, respectively, to win their previous two games, but could not rally for a third straight victory. At 50-19-8, the Ducks lead the San Jose Sharks by one point in the race for first place in the Pacific Division; Anaheim also has a game in hand but it won't matter if they keep falling behind.
"We can't let this happen," Boudreau said." We have to find a way. Sometimes, for one reason or another, we're not getting the job done early. We're a really good team with the lead, but we just haven't had the lead lately."
Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne tied Tomas Vokoun for the franchise record with 161 wins. Mike Fisher and Colin Wilson each scored two goals and Matt Cullen had three assists for the Predators, who are holding on to slim hopes of making the playoffs.
"I knew it was close but I didn't realize that it's this one," Rinne said of the team record. "He's obviously a really good goalie. He was one of their franchise players when the team came into Nashville. He had a successful career in Nashville. It's obviously a nice accomplishment, but hopefully there's plenty more to come.
"Since my comeback [from a hip injury], there's been ups and downs and I haven't really found a solid consistency. I think that's the one thing: I just want to feel comfortable and feel confident on the ice and just feel like I'm on the right track. That's my goal for these last few games."
Hiller wasn't available after the game. Boudreau said he looked "very sharp" in two prior days of practice and that they needed a big game from him, but Hiller was shaky from the start and wasn't aided by his defense. Andersen went 3-0-0 during Hiller's break and, at 19-5-0 on the season, can make a case to be No. 1.
A combination of Hiller's inability to cover the post and poor defensive coverage in front of him resulted in a 4-1 lead for Nashville 17:05 into the game.
Wilson drove three-quarters the length of the ice and scored on a second whack at the puck at 5:36 of the first period, then was open to knock in a loose puck from the goalmouth at 12:41. Consecutive goals from behind the net by Fisher at 13:52 and Patric Hornqvist at 17:05 forced Boudreau to remove Hiller for Andersen as the crowd cheered.
Boudreau said he hoped the fans were voicing their opinion for the team, and Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin, who was minus-4 on the night, said the defense let Hiller down.
"That's how it's been the last few games - we haven't been good defensively and that's one aspect of our game that we have to get better at for the playoffs," Beauchemin said. "I don't have an [explanation]. Every single guy has got to be sharp mentally and make those mistakes. We all know what we have to do."
Beauchemin and Stephane Robidas were on the ice for three of Nashville's first four goals. Kyle Palmieri's goal at 15:00 salvaged a disconcerting first 20 minutes for Anaheim.
Daniel Winnik banged the puck into the net off Rickard Rakell's try at 3:18 of the second period to make it 4-2, but Fisher restored Nashville's three-goal lead with a tap-in goal at 16:00 after Andersen had a shot trickle through his legs.
Anaheim had two goals disallowed late in the second. Nashville held it two shots on goal in the first 13 minutes of the third. The Ducks actually had energy in the first five minutes but Nashville worked through it.
"They just played hard," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "We looked a little rusty in the first five minutes and there were some dangerous pucks bouncing around in front of Pekka. He was really sharp. Wilson had some great shifts and he got us rolling in the right way."
It was Fisher's first multiple-goal game since Dec. 28. Wilson's goals were his second and third in 2014.
Nashville is 4-1-1 in its past six games in Anaheim and has 40 points in 38 road games this season.