As the seconds ticked down to zero, the Vancouver Canucks had to be baffled since they were still battling the Nashville Predators, who had a chance to tie the game in the closing seconds after being beaten in every aspect for most of the game. Chris Higgins supplied the games only offense with his goal at 12:14 of the second period, as the Canucks held on for the 1-0 victory in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.
The Predators spent in excess of the first 40 minutes of the game looking out of kilter, applying little pressure on the Canucks. The game was a microcosm of the Predators season where goalie Pekka Rinne kept the Preds in the game, stopping 29 of 30 Canuck shots. The Predators made it easy on Roberto Luongo, only producing 20 shots. He was rarely tested until the final ten minutes of the game.
The game started with lively play and a big hit by Kevin Bieksa on Mike Fisher to make a statement. The first penalty of the series went against Mikael Samuelsson for hooking David Legwand. The Preds got a shot but applied little pressure.
The Canucks went on the power play at 6:35 when Patric Hornqvist high sticked Keith Ballard for the first pointless penalty of the series. The Canuck got four shots, but Rinne looked sharp and was up to the challenge.
Jordin Tootoo was called for cross checking Daniel Sedin at 16:16 to put the ‘Nucks back on the man advantage. Vancouver put plenty of pressure on Rinne, again, firing three shots. As the period wound down, Christian Ehrhoff was called for hooking Matt Halischuck.
It was a miracle for the Predators that they remained tied at the end of the first period as they were outshot, 16-5, while only winning three of 25 faceoffs during the first 20 minutes.
The Preds started the second period with 1:28 of power play time carried over from the end of the first. The Preds got a shot before Hornqvist was called for roughing Dan Hamhuis just 44 seconds in. There were no shots on the four on four but the Nucks got three on the man advantage.
At 3:42 Steve Sullivan slashed Tanner glass for no particular reason. The Canucks got three more shots on the power play for a total of 13 to that point in the game.
Vancouver was accessed a bench minor for too many men on the ice at 7:26. The Preds only got a single shot and Raffi Torres lais a huge hit on Jerred Smithson as he came out of the box.
The inevitable finally occurred at when Higgins a took a pass from Maxim Lapierre and roofed it off of Rinne’s pad as he had committed on a prior shot to give the Canucks a 1-0 lead. The play was set up hy several defensive miscues in the center of the ice. No one would have imagined that it would be the only goal of the game.
The referees made a horrible call against Ballard at 16:35 when he upended Tootoo on a classic hip check that was called clipping. The Predators managed a shot but could not convert on their fourth man advantage.
It was truly amazing that the Predators only trailed 1-0 at the end of the second period. They were outshot again in the second, 10-6, but they improved in the faceoff circle winning 14 of 25 draws.
The third period started with another penalty on the Preds at 3:52 when Hornqvist hooked Ryan Kesler in the process of trying to slow him down. The Preds had their best scoring chance of the evening on a short-handed Fisher breakaway at 5:20 that was stopped by Luongo.
The Predators started applying more consistent pressure through the middle of the period. The Preds went on the power play at 14:38 when Ballard tripped up Sergei Kostitsyn behind the Canuck net. The Preds moved the puck well but were only credited with only a single shot. Shea Weber had a great shot at the empty side of the net and missed high.
The Predators applied plenty of pressure in the closing minutes but could not break through, outshooting the opposition 9-4 in the final 20.
While the game was a disappointment for the Preds faithful, it should not have come as a surprise to anyone as it was similar to what was seen between the two clubs during the regular season. In five games, Rinne has allowed six goals and Luongo has given up seven.
The Predators will need to revitalize their attack and work on moving the puck through the neutral zone and get back to playing Predator hockey in the dirty areas around the net. Rinne needs to keep on doing what he is doing. All the Preds need is a good game on Saturday to come home 1-1 to claim home ice advantage.
The Predators will practice tomorrow and regroup before playing again at 8 p.m. CDT.