There is nothing subtle or particularly mysterious about the Nashville Predators' recipe for success. The Preds annually get more out of less than any team in the NHL. They rely on goaltender Pekka Rinne to be great every night. In Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, they have one of the best shutdown defence pairs in the league - and they usually score just enough to win against teams with far more star power than they possess.
That formula was on display in all its glory Wednesday, as the Predators became the only visiting team to win on the opening night of the NHL playoffs. Weber scored a first-period power-play goal to give the Predators a lead they would never relinquish. Mike Fisher, the ex-Ottawa Senator, set that one up and then scored two of his own, with fabulous snap shots. The second one, early in the third period, knocked Ducks' starting goaltender Dan Ellis out of the game. Ray Emery, who played with Fisher on the Senators' team that went to the 2007 Stanley Cup final against Anaheim, mopped up in what finished as a decisive 4-1 Nashville victory.
But this loss could not be pinned solely on Ellis, who gave the Ducks credible net-minding for the first 35 minutes or so of play. Right from the opening puck drop, the Predators held a distinct edge in the overall play. Few could dispute this: Nashville was full measure for the victory.
Ducks' coach Randy Carlyle did what he could to get his No. 1 line - of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan - away from Weber and Suter; and it looked as if the constant shuffling back and forth disrupted whatever rhythm or flow the Ducks might have developed.
Weber had Perry in a headlock as the second period ran out, after Perry slashed Rinne, a sign that this series could get overheated before all is said and done. The two, along with Getzlaf, won Olympic gold together for Canada 14 months ago in Vancouver, and they know each other's game, inside and out. The Ducks have a habit of collectively losing their cool and taking bad penalties when things don't go their way - and they let their discipline slip at different times in last night's game, especially as it started to get out of hand in the third.
The way the Ducks played down the stretch - winning 15 of 20 to finish the season, moving from outside the playoff picture all the way up to fourth place in the final week - you figured they would eventually hit a lull, or have an off night. That it came in the first game of the playoffs probably wasn't the timing they wanted, needed or expected.
The Predators received their other goal from another familiar face: Steve Sullivan, who did some time with the Maple Leafs a century or so ago and was activated from the injured reserve list just last week. After playing just two first-period shifts, Sullivan took a lob pass from Cody Franson that deflected off Francois Beauchemin and slipped into the clear.
Ellis stopped the first shot, but Sullivan banged in the rebound - his first goal since December. Before the Ducks could recover, Fisher then scored his first of two, on a wicked wrist shot off a drop pass from Patric Hornqvist that gave the Preds a 3-0 lead. Against a defensively sound team such as Nashville, three goals usually represents a mortal lock - and the third period was mostly given over to sending messages for next time.
Teemu Selanne's goal, which broke Rinne's shutout bid, came halfway through the third with the Ducks on a two-man advantage. By then, most everyone in the officially sold-out Honda Centre were filing for the exits.
The Ducks found themselves in a similar deficit to Nashville in the final month - down 3-0 early, on the night that Jonas Hiller made a valiant but ultimately unsuccessful return to the line-up from a bout of vertigo - and the Preds were hanging on by the end, escaping with a 5-4 win.
No such turmoil, or bother last night. Nashville shut the door in the third and the Ducks were left to go back to the drawing board, and gear up for Game 2 Friday night, when more of everything - lots more - will be required, if they plan to make a series of it.