Preda­tors push Ducks to the brink

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - SPORTS -

ANA­HEIM, CALIF. >> Pon­tus Aberg spent most of the sea­son in the mi­nors, and he had a part-time depth role for the Nashville Preda­tors in these Stan­ley Cup play­offs un­til in­juries thrust him into a key role in Game 5 of the West­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nals.

And now the unas­sum­ing Swede has an­other new role for Nashville: He’s the hero of the lat­est clutch vic­tory in the Preda­tors’ in­creas­ingly ir­re­sistible Stan­ley Cup push.

Aberg scored his first ca­reer play­off goal with 8:59 to play, and the Preda­tors moved to the brink of their first Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal with a 3-1 vic­tory over the Ana­heim Ducks to take a 3-2 se­ries lead Satur­day night.

Aberg had to send him­self fly­ing across the crease to swat home a re­bound of Filip Fors­berg’s shot for the Preda­tors, epit­o­miz­ing Nashville’s per­sis­tent ef­fort through a de­fen­sive vic­tory. A mo­ment be­fore he scored the big­gest goal of his life, Aberg was up­ended dur­ing a scram­ble. He had to be taken off the ice for med­i­cal eval­u­a­tion im­me­di­ately af­ter his cel­e­bra­tion, but his team­mates hung on to move within one win of play­ing for hockey’s ul­ti­mate prize.

“I face-planted there and lost my tooth, but it didn’t hurt my head,” Aberg said with a smile.

Not much seems to wound these re­silient Preda­tors, who over­came the in­jury ab­sence of top scorer Ryan Jo­hansen and cap­tain Mike Fisher. Nashville leaned heav­ily on stal­wart goalie Pekka Rinne and got barely enough of­fense to sur­vive, with Colin Wilson scor­ing the ty­ing goal late in the sec­ond pe­riod and Austin Wat­son adding an empty-net­ter.

“We knew com­ing into tonight that we’ve just got to come to­gether, play well de­fen­sively and grind it out,” Rinne said. “I thought that’s what we did. We showed a lot of char­ac­ter. For us, the first cou­ple of rounds was fairly smooth sail­ing. Things were go­ing our way. You deal with ad­ver­sity, but right now, it’s some­thing that ev­ery team is go­ing to face, and I feel like we han­dled it re­ally well.” Game 6 is Mon­day night in Nashville.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Nashville Preda­tors left wing Pon­tus Aberg cel­e­brated af­ter scor­ing against the Ana­heim Ducks dur­ing the third pe­riod on Satur­day.

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