Ducks aim to keep Predators off goalie John Gibson

Ducks goalie John Gibson and Predators left wing Viktor Arvidsson fall to the ice after a goal in the third period in Game 3 of the Western Conference final on Tuesday. (Mark Humphrey/The Associated Press)
Ducks goalie John Gibson and Predators left wing Viktor Arvidsson fall to the ice after a goal in the third period in Game 3 of the Western Conference final on Tuesday. (Mark Humphrey/The Associated Press)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — There were many things the Ducks could have done better in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals against Nashville. Protecting their goalie is one.

Within seconds of each other, John Gibson got knocked over by Nashville’s Harry Zolnierczyk and then run over by the Predators’ Mattias Ekholm. And the Predators were able to put the pucks into an empty net past the sprawled netminder.

Neither would count as the potential goals were waved off. The second one got Ekholm two minutes for interference. But those were the most visible examples of Nashville’s well-executed plan to make hard charges to the net and make things as difficult as possible for Gibson, bumping him often.

It became a problem for the Ducks, who know they’ve got to handle that better for Game 4 on Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena. Knowing they were successful at attacking the net, the Predators don’t figure to stop until there’s a deterrent.

So what needs to be done, Josh Manson?

“You just slow them down a little bit earlier,” said Manson, the Ducks’ rugged defenseman. “Not let them they get to the crease before we try to get in there. If we start stopping them a little bit earlier before they get to the net they run out of speed before they get to him.

“It’s pretty simple what you got to do when guys start taking runs at a goalie like that.”

Andrew Cogliano agreed with that and conversely said the Ducks have to challenge Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne more by invading his space and making him feel uncomfortable.

“Offensively we need to spend more time in their end,” Cogliano said. “If we’re not in their end, it’s tough to get to the net. If we can get some more zone time, if we can possess the puck more and get on our cycle, I think we’ll have more opportunities to get to the net and get more traffic and make it tougher for them.”

To handle their own end, it could be a situation for a physical player such as Kevin Bieksa. Bieksa was injured through most of the second round against Edmonton but hasn’t been called upon in the conference finals after dealing with a leg injury.

The Ducks were often pushed around by the aggressive Predators in Game 3. To this point, Ducks coach Carlyle has stuck with his same six on defense and wouldn’t tip his hand with regard to inserting the veteran of 82 NHL playoff games.

“Kevin’s a hard-nosed, veteran player that’s been in those types of wars and in these situations before,” Carlyle said. “But he’s an option for us, as is Clayton Stoner, as is Korbinian Holzer. We have three defensemen that at our disposal.

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“And if we feel that’s what’s necessary to give us a best chance at success, we’ll utilize the people that we feel are best suited for the environment that we’re going into.”

Manson suggested the Predators are also operating with the knowledge that the Ducks would want to avoid any type of retaliation penalties and put themselves down a man in a critical playoff game.

“I think any time you hit the goalie, it’s crossing the line,” Manson said. “Any time you drive to the crease and you don’t really have any objections to stopping and running into him, that’s crossing the line.

“And I think if it wasn’t playoffs and you’re not worried about taking an extra penalty, I think there’d be a little more consequence to pay. Just because of the stakes of the game, it’s a little bit tougher.

They’re going to drive on the net. It’s on us to slow them down earlier so it doesn’t get to that point.”

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