So close and yet so far away.
The Ducks came close to taking a 3-2 series lead from the Predators, who had never won a game five, ever. Instead, the Predators found a way to tie up the game in the final minute and then finished off Anaheim in overtime. Both teams now head back to Nashville for game six on Easter Sunday.
Nashville wants to finish things off. Anaheim wants to resurrect their playoff chances by taking the series to a game seven. Which one will happen?
The Ducks truly have no one to blame but themselves. A very flat first period saw Anaheim fortunate to head to the second period down by only one goal. Kevin Klein’s score at 8:32 put the Predators on the board, and continued the predicter of he who scores first, wins.
“I don’t think our hockey club played to the level that we’re capable of tonight,” said coach Randy Carlyle. “That’s the most disturbing part for me because we didn’t play and we didn’t skate with the necessary determination until parts of the game and then we got away from it.”
Anaheim got back to their game midway through the second period. Jason Blake persevered at the net to push the puck past Pekke Rinne at 13:39. That continued the Ducks success on the power play and gave the crowd reason to come back alive.
Tied going into the third period, Bobby Ryan, who was back in the line up after a two game suspension, reminded everyone why they missed him.
Stripping the puck at the blue line, Ryan proceeded to undress David Legwand, not once, but twice, as he stick handled in a manner that will be seen over and over and over again on youtube and sports center highlights. Such maneuvering could only be followed up with the puck in the net, and go in past Rinne it did.
A mere :40 seconds into the third and the Ducks had their first lead and a lot more life.
Nashville persevered, and Ray Emery continued to come up big. Emery stopped another 33 shots and truly gave the Ducks a chance until they woke up midway through.
The Predators were rewarded for their hard work with a lucky bounce off the end boards that went to Joel Ward. He tied up the game with his third goal of the series at 11:20.
Blake added a second goal to give the Ducks back the lead at 14:16. With Teemu Selanne digging the puck out behind the net, the puck bounced off Rinne’s stick and right to Blake, who hammered it home.
All looked promising until Rinne vacated the net for the extra attacker.
With a mere :35.3 seconds left, Shea Weber sent the puck flying from the blue line, past traffic, through bodies, and into the net behind Emery to tie up the game once more. Ouch. Emery never had a chance to stop the shot.
“It just found a way in,” Weber said. “Sometimes it doesn’t have to be hard. Just get traffic and it goes in.”
That boost was all Nashville needed to head into overtime. It was anyone’s game, but Jerred Smithson, more inclined to be a checker, not a scorer, got the puck from Jordin Tootoo and put it in the net at 1:57.
Cue the ecstatic Predators. Silence the home crowd left to wonder if the Ducks would be back again on Tuesday.
“We’ve got a lot of heart in this locker room and a lot of belief,” said a very happy Smithson. “Finding a way to tie it up was a huge momentum boost. In overtime.”
How unlikely was Smithson to be the game winning scorer? The last overtime goal he had scored had been so long ago it was likely when he was in the minors.
“It’s been a long time,”: Smithson said. “I don’t get too many opportunities but it is definitely something that feels pretty good. It hasn’t really sunk in yet. Any way I can contribute. I don’t score a lot of goals but I take pride in the faceoff circle and try help out the team in other ways. But to contribute offensively definitely feels good.”
It does not feel good on the Anaheim side of things.
“We have to go into a hostile building and win one there,” said captain Ryan Getzlaf.
For Selanne, who wants to make the most of whatever playing time he has left, it was more pragmatic.
“There is a reason it’s a best of seven series. This is all about bouncing back,” observed the Finn. “It’s not loke we haven’t been in this position before. We have another opportunity Sunday.”
The Predators have an opportunity on Sunday as well – win their first ever playoff series. The Ducks will have their work cut out for them indeed.