Ducks-Predators Preview

The Nashville Predators are in position to take the biggest step

in franchise history.

The team best known for being just good enough to make the

playoffs but go no further can advance to its first Western

Conference semifinals with a win over the Anaheim Ducks in Game 6

Sunday.

Nashville grabbed a 3-2 lead in this first-round series in

dramatic fashion Friday night in Anaheim, rallying for a 4-3

overtime win. It was the Predators’ first victory in a Game 5,

their first postseason OT win and their first time to win three

games in a series.

Just the kind of thrilling finish that can swing the momentum in

a series for good.

”The goal is to go home and finish it off at home,” Nashville

forward Joel Ward said. ”We definitely don’t want to get back on a

four-hour flight to California.”

Jerred Smithson won the game with his overtime goal, and he said

the Predators are not done yet.

”We still have a lot of work to do, but we have put ourselves

in a good position,” Smithson said. ”We haven’t played our best

hockey yet, but we will enjoy this, put it behind us, and go to

work back home.”

The Ducks are trying to regroup and avoid losing their third

first-round series in seven appearances. They last went out in six

games to Dallas in 2008 and were swept by Detroit in 1999. It won’t

be easy after a heartbreaking loss, especially after Bobby Ryan’s

dazzling goal in the third period gave the Ducks a 2-1 lead they

couldn’t hold.

”Our team’s got a lot of veteran guys, a lot of guys that have

been through this situation that can keep us on an even keel,”

Ryan said. ”We’ve got to be ready for Sunday, that’s all we can

do.”

Anaheim returns to Nashville with the confidence from a 6-3 win

in Game 4 on Wednesday night, but the Ducks also have to get Corey

Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Teemu Selanne going again after the big

scoring trio was shut out at home. Selanne did have an amazing

assist, but that was the lone point for a trio that had combined

for 19 points through the first four games.

Selanne said there’s a reason series go seven games.

”You never know in this game, that’s why it’s a beauty. So I

guess we’re going to learn something and move on. Sunday is going

to be a new opportunity,” Selanne said.

That sounds good, but the Bridgestone Arena was raucous through

the first two home games with catfish tossed on the ice for good

luck and country stars such as Vince Gill and Carrie Underwood

singing in support. Now fans can cheer their team to a clinching

victory instead of watching the Predators shake hands as losers as

they did each of their five previous playoff series.

Detroit clinched in Nashville in 2004 and 2008, and San Jose

celebrated series’ wins in both 2006 and 2007 in Music City. Last

year, the Chicago Blackhawks added insult to the pain of the

Predators’ blown lead in losing Game 5 by closing them out in

Nashville.

It was depressing enough some fans held off buying tickets,

waiting to see how the Predators would play Friday night first.

Now Predators coach Barry Trotz knows Sunday will bring

something different.

”Our goal is to take the next steps all the time. Our arena is

a fantastic arena and we just have to keep everything in

perspective. We will be ready. It will be a fun atmosphere,” Trotz

said.

This physical series has featured lots of tough talk,

accusations of dirty play, a pair of suspensions, one for a hit

that knocked out one of the Predators’ top scorers. Martin Erat,

who tied with a team-high 50 points, didn’t even travel to Anaheim

for Friday night’s game. He did skate Saturday before the team

returned to Nashville and is considered day to day.

Jarkko Ruutu, who hit him, will be back from his one-game

suspension.

The Ducks will counter with some desperation. It worked as they

rebounded from an ugly performance in losing Game 3 with that 6-3

win that tied the series. Now they can only hope to do the same and

stretch this series back to Anaheim for a final game Tuesday

night.

”We’re fighting for our lives now, there’s no doubt about it,”

Getzlaf said. ”We’re going into a hostile building, and we’re

going to have to go in there and play the same way we did in Game 4

and hopefully get the same result.”

With the way momentum has swung back and forth, Nashville

captain Shea Weber says the Predators know the Ducks will not lie

down.

”They are going to come out with their best effort just like

they have in the past,” Weber said. ”We have to make sure we are

ready for it.”

AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in Anaheim, Calif., and AP

freelance writer Jim Diamond contributed to this report.