For the first time in franchise history, the Nashville Predators won an elimination game and forced the Western Conference semifinal series back to Nashville for a Game 6 on Monday night at 7 PM ET at the Bridgestone Arena.
Joel Ward and David Legwand provided all the offense that was needed for the Predators who scratched and clawed to a victory that few folks thought would happen. The Predators scored early in all three period to play with a lead for most of the game, something they haven’t been able to do much of so far in this series.
Legwand scored the Predators first two goals with Ward scoring the final two and was close to a hat trick when he was stopped by Roberto Luongo on a breakaway late in the game. Ryan Kesler had two goals for Vancouver and Raffi Torres had the other one.
Pekka Rinne faced a ton of rubber once again stopping 31 of 34 Vancouver shots. Luongo stopped 19 of 23 shots from the Predators in taking the loss.
The game did not start the way the Predators had hoped. Vancouver forced the play and the Preds did not have the puck clearly in the Canucks zone for over two minutes at the start of the game. Things deteriorated further when Sergei Kostitsyn was called for holding Kevin Bieksa’s stick at 3:31.
Surprisingly, it was the Preds that scored on he Canuck man advantage when Ward stole a weak pass at the Vancouver blue line and fed a pass to Legwand who put it past Luongo to take a surprising 1-0 early Predator lead.
Vancouver came right back and scored 2:17 later when Torres was left open on the off side of a rush and took a pass from Jannik Hansen and put it past a reaching Rinne to tie the game 1-1.
Vancouver extended their lead to 2-1 at 15:06 when Mason Raymond delivered a perfect pass to Kesler who arrived at the Preds net at just the right time to put it past a tightly defending Shea Weber and Rinne.
Lat in the period, Kostitsyn had a great opportunity with a shot on the empty side of Luongo’s net but Max LaPierre made the save of the game diving in front of the puck inside the blue ice.
The first period ended with Vancouver dominating in every statistical category. The Canucks led in shots 12-5. The Preds were horrible in the faceoff circle going 7-16 which gave Vancouver plenty of puck possession.
The second period started much better for the Predators who showed more aggressive play from the opening puck drop. Fifty-one seconds into the period, Legwand scored a fluky goal when he flipped the puck over the net into Alexander Edler and it bounced into the Vancouver goal to tie the game 2-2.
Vancouver was called for too many men on the ice at 7:22 and the Preds got off a couple of shots but were held scoreless by the Canuck penalty kill unit.
After a huge save by Rinne on the best shift of the game by the Sedin twins, Legwand and Christian Ehrhoff mixed it up in front of the Preds net and were both sent to the box at 16:04 for cross-checking and roughing respectively. Vancouver got the only shot during the resulting four on four play.
The second period was far better than the opener for the Predators. The shots were tied at eight apiece, but the Preds had far more scoring opportunities and played more of the old school “Predator way” hockey that they have to play to be competitive.
The Preds started the third period with another early goal when Mike Fisher picked up a turnover and fired it cross ice to Ward who one-timed the puck past Luongo from the off side of the play to give the Preds a 3-2 lead.
At 4:50 Kesler took a puck to the face off a deflection by Kevin Klein and was seen bleeding profusely but gutted it out and did not miss a shift.
At 5:45, Vancouver got sloppy on an attempted breakout and Edler turned the puck over to Jordin Tootoo who got the puck to Ward who converted his second goal of the game at 5:45 to give the Predators their first two goal lead of the series at 4-2.
At 9:11 Fisher and Ehrhoff were called for coincidental roughing penalties. Vancouver got the break they needed at 10:35 when Shane O’Brien was called for holding Bieksa to put the Canucks on the man advantage. The only shot of the odd man situation was a short-handed breakaway by Ward who almost got a natural hat trick but Luongo was able to get in front of the puck.
The Canucks were desperately trying to get shots on net as time wound down. Kesler rang up his second goal of the game form near the blue line with a slapper that went through a crowd of players and past a screened Rinne to pull the Canucks within one at 4-3 with 3:46 left in the contest.
The Predators held on for the win but it was down to the wire as Vancouver put plenty of pressure on Nashville as the clock ticked toward zero. Vancouver out shot the Preds 14-10 in the final period.
The game took it’s toll on both teams with the Preds losing Nick Spaling with a minute left in the second period with what looked to be a shoulder injury when he was rammed against the boards by Sami Salo. For Vancouver, Mikael Samuelsson left with 7:32 in the opening period after he twisted awkwardly and will not travel to Nashville with the team.
The Predators will arrive in Nashville Sunday afternoon to get ready to prepare for Monday’s game six.