Ducks' reward for Game 7 win is date with Rinne and Preds

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Nashville is officially a hockey town!

After beating Anaheim in two previous playoff series, the fantastic Finn and his Predators are looming again in front of the Ducks in the Western Conference finals. Gibson did come up big in Game 7 against Edmonton, but still finished with just an.895 save percentage for the series against the Oilers.

Here's how the USA TODAY Sports NHL staff sees it playing out. Nashville has won both playoff matchups against the Ducks, including a seven-game series in the 2016 postseason.

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 hard on an opposing goaltender. Sami Vatanen found Ritchie in the near circle for his first point of the post-season, while Ritchie hadn't contributed a point since Game 3 against the Calgary Flames.

And here we are, a rematch of last year's excruciatingly tight first-round series, but this time for a chance to play for the Stanley Cup. What will the conference finals do for an encore?

When the playoffs began, people wondered if Edmonton could replicate the scenes from 2006 when the city became co-star to the team in the Oilers remarkable run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.

Now here we are with an unlikely Western Conference Final matchup that, while unexpected, looks like it is going to be very good. Rinne has been spectacular in these playoffs in leading all goaltenders with a 1.37 goals-against average and.951 save percentage. The Predators' defensemen, despite the blockbuster offseason trade of longtime captain Shea Weber for fellow blue-liner P.K. Subban, are getting it done at both ends of the ice by amassing nine goals and 27 points in the postseason. Two of their meetings this year (6-1 Ducks and 5-0 Predators) were blowouts, but this should be a tight series.

Head to head: These two teams played it pretty even during the regular season.

"That's our message", said Ducks coach Randy Carlyle following the bloodbath. Nashville is +300 to win the Cup. But the Ducks clawed back, and Nick Ritchie's early third-period marker was the deciding goal.

John Gibson, Ducks - Gibson was pulled after three goals on six shots in game six but responded with a 23-save performance in the second game seven of his career. The Oilers had watched a 3-0 lead vanish in three minutes in Game 5 before losing in double overtime only to come back and completely dominate the Ducks in a 7-1 win in Game 6.

Getzlaf is third in the playoffs for scoring at 15 points, trailing Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins by just three points. The Ducks are now 22-12 since the start of the 2015 postseason, the best winning percentage in the National Hockey League (.647). Ducks fans thrilled to have finally broken a playoff curse, hello.

Clayton Stoner has practiced regularly with the Ducks and Simon Despres has skated before their official workout the last two days. We aren't going to surprise teams anymore.

In Washington, the Sidney Crosby-led Penguins continued their playoff domination of Alex Ovechkin's Capitals, winning the second round series in the seventh and deciding game. Bieksa averaged 18:45 of ice time during the season with three goals and 11 assists. Nashville made quick work of the heavily favoured Chicago Blackhawks in the opening round and then wasted the St. Louis Blues in five games in what has certainly been the talk of the playoffs so far and now they are just four wins away from their first Stanley Cup final in franchise history.

Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers square off against the Anaheim Ducks tonight in a do-or-die Game 7.

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