Nashville just one vic­tory from first berth in fi­nals

The Washington Post Sunday - - BASEBALL - BY GREG BEACHAM

PREDATORS 3, DUCKS 1

ana­heim, calif. — Pon­tus Aberg scored his first ca­reer play­off goal with 8:59 to play, and the Nashville Predators are on the verge of their first Stan­ley Cup fi­nals af­ter a 3-1 vic­tory over the Ana­heim Ducks in Game 5 of the West­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nals Satur­day night.

Aberg scored on a re­bound of Filip Fors­berg’s shot for the Predators, who took a 3-2 se­ries lead de­spite the in­jury ab­sence of top scorer Ryan Jo­hansen and cap­tain Mike Fisher.

Pekka Rinne made 32 saves in the Fin­nish goalie’s lat­est dom­i­nant play­off per­for­mance in Ana­heim, where the Predators have won five of their past seven play­off games over two sea­sons.

Chris Wag­ner scored for the Ducks, who lost start­ing goalie John Gib­son to in­jury dur­ing the first in­ter­mis­sion.

Game 6 is Mon­day night in Nashville.

Jonathan Bernier took over and stopped 16 shots in his first ap­pear­ance in nearly two weeks for the Ducks, who al­ready were with­out 30-goal scor­ers Rickard Rakell and Pa­trick Eaves be­fore los­ing Gib­son to a lower-body in­jury.

Ana­heim was knocked out of the play­offs last year by Nashville, and the Ducks are fac­ing their sec­ond elim­i­na­tion game of the post­sea­son af­ter win­ning Game 7 against Ed­mon­ton in the sec­ond round.

The Predators still haven’t lost back-to-back games at any point in what’s look­ing like a charmed play­off run for an 18-sea­son-old fran­chise that’s fi­nally one game from play­ing for the Stan­ley Cup.

Af­ter Colin Wil­son scored the ty­ing power-play goal late in the sec­ond pe­riod for the Predators, Aberg went fly­ing when he stretched out to guide home Fors­berg’s re­bound for the tiebreaker.

The 23-year-old Swede has only one goal in his 15 games of reg­u­lar sea­son NHL ex­pe­ri­ence, but Nashville’s in­juries thrust him into a key role along­side Fors­berg on its top line.

Austin Wat­son added an empty-net goal in the fi­nal minute, em­phat­i­cally end­ing Ana­heim’s streak of seven con­sec­u­tive Game 5 vic­to­ries at home since 2011. The last team to beat the Ducks in a Game 5 at Honda Cen­ter also was Nashville.

Aberg and sev­eral other role play­ers all came up big in the Predators’ first game of the sea­son with­out Jo­hansen, their topline cen­ter and lead­ing post­sea­son scorer. Jo­hansen had emer­gency surgery shortly af­ter Game 4 and was ruled out for the rest of the play­offs.

Fisher missed his first game of his score­less post­sea­son with an undis­closed in­jury af­ter tak­ing a hit to the head in Game 4.

The Ducks also were hurt­ing with­out Rakell, a sur­prise omis­sion be­cause of a lower-body in­jury, and Eaves, who missed his ninth straight game. The duo com­bined for 65 reg­u­lar sea­son goals.

The Ducks won Game 4 against Nashville in over­time and con­trolled long stretches of play in Game 5, but their de­pleted for­wards re­peat­edly strug­gled to fin­ish strong se­quences against Rinne, who has beaten Ana­heim in two pre­vi­ous play­off se­ries.

CHRIS CARL­SON/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The Predators’ Pon­tus Aberg, right, is down but able to cel­e­brate af­ter scor­ing his first play­off goal to break a tie in the third pe­riod.

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