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NHL Playoffs: Predators down Ducks to reach 1st Stanley Cup Final

NHL Playoffs: Predators down Ducks to reach 1st Stanley Cup Final

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Different players just keep stepping up for the Nashville Predators, and now their magical postseason run has an even bigger destination: the franchise's first trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

Colton Sissons scored his third goal with 6:00 left, and the Predators eliminated the Anaheim Ducks with a 6-3 win in Game 6 on Monday night in the Western Conference finals.

"In the back of your head, you've been thinking about the Finals and then when the buzzer goes off, it's an amazing feeling," Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne said.

The Predators, who've never won even a division title in their 19-year history, came in with the fewest points of any team in these playoffs. They lost their top center, Ryan Johansen, for the playoffs after Game 4 because of emergency surgery on his left thigh. Captain Mike Fisher has missed two games with an upper-body injury.

"We went through a tremendous amount of adversity the last 72 hours losing two key guys in our lineup," Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban said. "I mean, I said it before earlier in the playoffs that this team's got tremendous amount of composure. There is so much confidence in this dressing room what we can accomplish together if we play the right way."

They've swept the West's No. 1 seed in Chicago, downed St. Louis in six in the second round and now the Pacific Division champs. Peter Laviolette is the fourth coach to take three different teams to the Final, and the first since the playoffs split into conference play in 1994.

Laviolette joked that probably means he's been fired a lot.

"Our guys know the big picture," Laviolette said of his Predators. "They understand what it is that we're trying to do here. And when that time comes, we'll be ready."

The Predators will play either defending champion Pittsburgh or Ottawa for the Stanley Cup. Game 1 is Monday.

Anaheim lost in the conference finals for the second time in three years.

"Our effort was there and we were a desperate hockey club right from the opening faceoff, and we didn't quit until they scored the second empty-net goal," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said.

Cam Fowler tied it 3-3 at 8:52 of the third for Anaheim as the Ducks tried to rally for the fifth time this season when trailing by multiple goals.

But Sissons, who scored on the third shot of the game, scored twice in a wild third period to give the Predators a 3-2 lead at 3:00 and then 4-3 three minutes later.

"I don't think I even dreamt of this moment, scoring a hat trick in the Western Conference clinching game, but I can't speak enough for just our whole group," Sissons said. "We've been through some challenges together and we stuck together no matter what, just always believed and here we are."

Austin Watson scored on Nashville's first shot and had an empty-netter with 1:34 to go. Filip Forsberg also had an empty-net goal.

Rinne made 38 saves to improve to 12-4.

Ondrej Kase scored his second career goal -- both in this series -- giving Anaheim a chance to tie the NHL record with a fifth rally when trailing by multiple goals. Chris Wagner banked the puck off Rinne's head for a goal at 5:00 of the third to keep the Ducks close.

But this has been the best postseason ever for Rinne, a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist, a stretch ranking among the NHL's best. And the 6-foot-5 Finn used his big body to turn away shot after shot even with the Ducks trying to crash the net every opportunity.

Music City buzzed all day leading up to the puck drop waiting for one of the biggest sports parties this town has ever seen.

Superstar Garth Brooks spoiled the usual mystery of who would sing the national anthem with Twitter hints hours before the game. Sure enough, his wife Trisha Yearwood became the latest to handle the honors. Former Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George waved the rally towel to crank up the fans.

That didn't even include the throngs packing the plaza outside the arena's front doors and the park across the street.

The Ducks, who came in 2-1 when facing elimination this postseason, peppered Rinne with pucks.

But they had goalie Jonathan Bernier making his first career playoff start after John Gibson was scratched with a hamstring injury. Caryle said Gibson, who went out after the first period of Game 5, was expected to play before telling them he was unavailable after skating Monday morning. Jhonas Enroth dressed as Bernier's backup.

Watson's third this postseason deflected off the left skate of Anaheim defenseman Brandon Montour just 81 seconds into the game. Sissons skated on the top line in place of Johansen. He finished a game-high plus-5.

"This one is going to sting for a while," Ducks forward Corey Perry said.

Notes
Laviolette won the Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006 and coached Philadelphia to the Final in 2010. Laviolette joins Scotty Bowman (St. Louis, Montreal, Pittsburgh and Detroit), Dick Irvin (Chicago, Toronto and Montreal) and Mike Keenan (Flyers, Chicago, Rangers) taking at least three teams to the Final. ... Sissons' hat trick was the first in a conference final clincher since Chicago's Patrick Kane in 2013 against Los Angeles. His hat trick is the second in Nashville playoff history.

Flyers Weekly Observations: Claude Giroux's redemption tour beats on

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Flyers Weekly Observations: Claude Giroux's redemption tour beats on

It was a busy week on the ice for the team that calls South Philadelphia home.

And that busy week ended with plenty of positive vibes for the Flyers after a 2-1-0 showing.

They kicked things off with a commanding 5-1 victory over the visiting Florida Panthers on Tuesday night, followed that up with a tough 1-0 loss to the Nashville Predators on Thursday evening and wrapped up the week with a hard-earned 2-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday afternoon as the five-game homestand rolled on.

There’s plenty to get to, so, now that the ink is dry, let’s dive right into the week that was for the Flyers.

• In the days and weeks leading up to this season, there were a plethora of questions surrounding the Flyers, and to some extents, there still is as the season is still in its infancy, just eight games in. But the captain is already answering all the questions about him, and there were a lot of them. Claude Giroux played a key role again this week for the Flyers, scoring two goals — a breakaway snipe Tuesday past Roberto Luongo and a power-play slam dunk past Cam Talbot to open the scoring Saturday.

Giroux's tally against the Oilers was his fifth of the season. For comparison’s sake, Giroux didn’t record his fifth goal last season until Nov. 29, the 24th game of the season. Two things are noticeable when it comes to Giroux. Yes, the move to left wing alongside Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek is paying dividends and providing energy, not just for Giroux, but also as a whole for the line, which continues to produce. Couturier scored his fourth of the season Tuesday and Voracek, while still scoreless, is tied for third in the league with 10 assists.

But much more importantly for Giroux, he’s clearly healthy again, which wasn’t the case most of the last season as the effects from hip surgery lingered and anchored him. The fact of the matter is, in many ways, Giroux is still the engine of the Flyers’ offense and the cog that makes it go. The puck is still on his stick a ton and opposing teams still key in on him. It comes as no surprise a healthy, producing Giroux is igniting a Flyers offense that is averaging 3.50 goals. As the captain goes, so do the Flyers. So far, better than so good.

• You can say what you want about Andrew MacDonald and his play and his contract. But that’s a different conversation for a different day. There’s no doubting MacDonald is one tough hombre after blocking a debilitating slap shot off the knee Saturday and fighting through it to continue killing a penalty in the third period. If you’re still wondering why MacDonald wears an “A” on his sweater during road games, wonder no more. He’s a tough, valued veteran who has the respect of the locker room thanks to plays like that. The Flyers announced Sunday he will miss 4-6 weeks with a lower-body injury, presumably from that play. If you’re one of the ones behind a keyboard celebrating his injury on Twitter, grow up.

• There’s really not much shame in the loss to Nashville on Thursday. The defending Western Conference champion Predators, just as good as they were last year when they came within two wins of the Stanley Cup, just smothered the Flyers. And when the Flyers did have chances, Pekka Rinne was there between the pipes to snuff them out. His third-period pad save on Couturier, who had just pulled off a nifty maneuver in the slot, was a dandy that kept the Preds on top. A loss is a loss and it’s frustrating, but the Flyers hung with one of the most complete teams in the league twice in the span of nine days.

• Wayne Simmonds just continues to do Wayne Simmonds things. On Thursday against the Preds, Simmonds took an errant stick to the mush as he was observing the action on the bench. He left but later returned to the game. Of course, he was right back in the lineup Saturday afternoon, albeit with a mouth protector attached to his helmet.

And of course, he scored Saturday’s game-winner with 2:15 left in regulation off a lovely feed from Valtteri Filppula. Simmonds admitted afterward he was losing pucks in his feet due to the impaired vision from the mouth protector and he would have to get some dead teeth extracted soon. That last part sounds just awful, by the way.

But as far as toughness and results on the ice from Simmonds, it’s gotten to the point where we expect nothing less. No surprise, but he now leads the Flyers with six goals on the young season.

• It was the best and worst this week for prized rookie Nolan Patrick. On Tuesday, he wowed the Panthers, his Flyers teammates and the entire Wells Fargo Center with a dazzling, through-the-legs drop pass to Dale Weise, who then promptly deposited the Flyers’ fourth goal of the evening in the victory over the Panthers. Seriously, what an unreal pass that was. That was uncanny awareness and hockey sense and incredible skill. And remember, he’s just 19 years old.

We got a reminder Saturday afternoon that he is just 19 and the lumps will come along with the highlight reel plays. During the second period against Edmonton, Patrick found himself with the puck in the corner in the defensive zone. He hesitated, perhaps mesmerized by the broken stick on the ice in front of him, and was quickly surrounded by the Oilers’ Patrick Maroon, who picked the rook’s pocket, drove toward the net and beat Brian Elliott to knot the game at 1-1.

A tough learning experience for Patrick, but the teenager will learn from it and get better. It’s the kind of thing you just naturally have to expect from a 19-year-old just eight games into his NHL career.

Coming up this week: Tuesday vs. Anaheim (7 p.m./NBCSP), Thursday at Ottawa (7:30 p.m./NBCSP), Saturday at Toronto (7 p.m./NBCSP+).

Injury to Andrew MacDonald could clear way for Flyers' top prospect

Injury to Andrew MacDonald could clear way for Flyers' top prospect

A roster spot for Samuel Morin appears to have opened up.

Andrew MacDonald will miss 4-6 weeks with a lower-body injury, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall announced Sunday. MacDonald will likely land on injured reserve.

The injury likely occurred midway through the third period against the Oilers on Saturday, when MacDonald blocked a Mark Letestu slap shot with 10:48 left in regulation and 1:44 left on an Edmonton power play.

MacDonald hobbled around on basically on one leg before being able to clear the puck and make it to the bench after 44 seconds. MacDonald blocked a game-high six shots Saturday.

“You just got to get up,” MacDonald said after the Flyers’ 2-1 win. “If you don’t get up, it’s 5-on-3. There are other opportunities that can arise from it. Do your best and try to hang in there. Wait for some help. Wait until you clear it. Everyone battles through it.

“You take a shot. You just get up, get back in there and help your guys.”

With MacDonald injured, the Flyers now have six defensemen. Brandon Manning has been a healthy scratch the past two games as Travis Sanheim drew back into the lineup.

The Flyers have yet to make a corresponding roster move, but considering Morin nearly made the team out of training camp and hung around for the four-game season-opening West Coast trip, it’s a safe assumption that Morin will find his way back to the NHL.

Morin had a goal and an assist for the Phantoms on Saturday night, an assist Friday night and points in all his three games in Lehigh Valley.

If Morin does come back up, the question is will he play?

The Flyers were reluctant to play three rookie defensemen on their season-opening trip and scratched both Sanheim and Morin for the season opener.

Things have changed now, though. MacDonald is third on the Flyers in ice time, averaging 19:36 while playing with Ivan Provorov, who will now find himself with a new partner.

Dave Hakstol could insert Manning into the lineup, which is a strong possibility. How Hakstol draws up his pairings remains to be seen, though it’s unlikely he’ll break up Shayne Gostisbehere and rookie Robert Hagg. It’s possible Provorov finds himself with Manning or Morin, or perhaps Radko Gudas. We’ll know more after Monday’s practice.

Calling up Morin is not Hextall’s only option. The Flyers also have T.J. Brennan in the AHL, who is a better fit as a seventh defenseman.