The Nashville Predators had entered five Game Fives in their postseason history and came away a loser in every one of them. Last year’s game five loss to Chicago in overtime was the most devastating loss in team history and has been the number one motivating factor for the team to not only make the playoffs but to win a round, or two, or three, or even four this year.
So this year the demon game five was waiting in the wings in the unfriendly confines of the Honda Center where the Predators have had little luck over the years. In a startling fashion, the Predators won 4-3 on Friday night on Jerred Smithson’s goal 1:57 in to overtime to take a 3-2 series lead.
The game was competitive from the opening puck drop. The Predators got on the board first when Kevin Klein picked up his first career playoff goal as he redirected a perfect pass from Jordin Tootoo at 8:32 in the first period.
The game remained 1-0 until 13:39 in the second period when Jason Blake slipped a puck under Pekka Rinne’s pads to bring the Ducks back to life.
As time was winding down in the period, David Legwand tried a dangerous cross ice pass that was picked up by Bobby Ryan. Ryan took the puck and dodged a stick-less Legwand to make a goal that will be shown on highlight reels for years to come. The Ducks headed to the dressing room with a 2-1 lead and momentum on their side.
The Predators came out in the final period and appeared to be on a mission. After several chances, Joel Ward scored on a pass from Legwand at 11:20 to tie the game 2-2. Ward crashed through defensemen Cam Fowler and Francois Beauchemin.
Less than three minutes later, after a battle behind the Preds net, Jason Blake found himself open in the slot and put the puck high into the net to retake the lead for the Ducks.
The Predators continued to put pressure on the Ducks and did not relent. Finally, with 36 seconds left in the game and fans unable to breathe, Captain Shea Weber unleashed a bomb from the blue line that found the net and forced the game into overtime.
The tension was thick enough to be cut with a knife as the overtime period started. Every play and pass was being measured by both teams. At 1:57, Tootoo sent his second assisting pass to Smithson, who buried it for the winning goal and set off massive celebration in the bars and honky tonks in Nashville.
Rinne had not played as well in the playoffs as he had in the regular season, for which he was rewarded earlier in the day on Friday as a top three finalist for the Vezina Trophy. He appeared to have found his game as he stopped 23 of 26 Ducks shots several of which were unbelievable saves.
Ray Emery gave up four goals on 37 shots in taking the loss.
Both teams will travel on Saturday and the Predators will practice at 4 p.m. at the Bridgestone Arena to prepare for Sunday’s game six that will start at 5 p.m. when the Preds will have the first chance in team history to clinch a playoff round victory.