Preds win 3-1, force game seven after dramatic finish
Now moving on to the final game of the series, Nashville has accomplished two separate franchise-firsts: earn a 2-0 series lead and force a game seven. This isnafter after one of the most dramatic finishes in the team's playoff history.
Highs and lows? Nashville's had plenty of them this season.
Game six didn't disappoint.
The Predators blew a 2-0 series lead against the Anaheim Ducks, losing the next three with a chance to force a series-ending game seven on Wednesday evening. With the possibility for a return by forward Craig Smith, Nashville would be able to ice the same roster that helped it start the series off so well.
This franchise had never forced a game seven in its history; never found the final gear to push back in a game six facing elimination. There were plenty of storylines entering the night, but how would the Predators respond against a Ducks team that they had no answer for in the past three contests?
After a tightly-contested scoreless first period, Nashville -- who had controlled most of the momentum for the first 20 minutes -- found itself finally able to set up plays and pour shots onto Anaheim netminder Frederik Anderson.
And finally, it paid off in a big way.
Taking the puck all the way around the net and firing it into traffic, defenseman Mattias Ekholm broke open the game and gave Nashville an all-important 1-0 lead.
Just minutes after, a Corey Perry shot that went wide would be taken back by Johansen and finished by James Neal on a two-on-one to double the Predators lead.
"You look at stats for teams with the first goal and they usually come out on the winning end," said Predators forward Ryan Johansen. "To get that first goal at home and get our crowd into it, it was awesome. We used that and fed off that energy tonight."
"When that first puck got in, I thought the whole building just exploded," said Ekholm. "And so did we too. We tried following it up with a couple good shifts down in their end. It's something that took some weight off of our shoulders, I think."
Nashville had its fair share of difficulty acquiring multiple goal leads during this series, with this being only the second one through six games. An inability to generate enough traffic towards Andersen has been one of the major reasons behind it, as Anaheim's roster performed a marvelous job of blocking shot attempts and forcing Nashville to the perimeter through the first five games.
But on a night where the Predators finally started breaking through, there were bound to be low points.
With 43 seconds left in the second period, Ekholm would be called for arguably one of the worst penalties to be called on the Predators this series -- one that should have either been a non-call or matching minors for both players involved.
20 seconds later, Anaheim would cut the lead to one after a Perry shot squeaked through Rinne's pads and was put home by Ryan Kesler.
"It's tough, it goes quick out there," said Ekholm. "I don't like blaming referees for anything. You can't agree with all calls, but I disagree with that one. I'm going to leave it there. I know it's tough on them. You can't get every call right. They're humans. That happens.
"I just heard the whistle, looked at him and he pointed at me. I had no idea. What did I do? That was kind of the reaction. I just felt [Lindholm] coming over my head. I couldn't see anything and then I got called for a penalty. So I didn't know really what was going on."
Even with how questionable the penalty was, the Predators needed a great response -- something they had yet to pull from their bag of tricks during this opening series.
"It's frustrating. We're moving things in the right direction and we give up a goal late like that," said head coach Peter Laviolette. "It's not what you want. Even just walking by the locker room as I was on my way to my office, I heard the guys saying the right things. We have such great leadership in the room.
"You hear guys like Carter Hutton and Shea Weber talking in the room, you know guys are saying the right things. They were saying the right things and moving past it. Talking about being a little more disciplined, playing good defense and doing the right things."
If Nashville's fan base was nervous after the Kesler goal, the mood only tightened in what turned into one of the tightest periods of the year for the Predators.
Back and forth, shot after shot and check after check, both teams battled for what smelled like a possible series-first trip to overtime. Perry had a couple chances of his own to tie it throughout the period, but just couldn't bury it.
Maybe it was the stellar play of Pekka Rinne in net, something Nashville has been desperate to find in its playoff history -- especially so this series.
Maybe it was the relentless forechecking from the Predators, giving the Ducks absolute fits until the final horn.
Maybe it was just a combination of everything, history finally turning to help Nashville rather than pull out the rug from under it.
Whatever it was, the Predators forced a game seven for the first time. If Wednesday ends up sending Nashville to a date with San Jose next round, it won't be due to sheer luck. It's an earned right to play in a game seven and the Predators definitely earned that Monday night.
"Even though you just try to think about game six, I was kind of thinking about [game seven]," said Rinne. "It's a great feeling. I've never experienced a game seven, not even in the minors or anywhere. It's something new and I'm just really stoked about it."
"You grow up playing these street hockey games, game sevens. You dream of it," said Weber. "It's going to be a good time."