Predators win to force first Game 7 in franchise history
Neal and Rinne carry Nashville to victory over Ducks on home ice
James Neal scored the winning goal late in the second period, and the Nashville Predators held on to beat the Anaheim Ducks 3-1 on Monday night and force the first Game 7 in franchise history.
The Predators had lost the previous five Game 6s when needing a win to stay alive in the playoffs, and they snapped a three-game skid to the Ducks to force this series back to Anaheim for the deciding game Wednesday night.
Shea Weber had an empty-net goal with 10 seconds left off an assist by Neal. Mattias Ekholm also scored a goal, and Pekka Rinne made 26 saves for the win.
Ryan Kesler scored a power play goal for the Ducks, who now are 8-6 in Game 6s.
They return to Anaheim where they lost their last Game 7 last spring in the Western Conference final to eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Rinne, who had been struggling in this series, came up big late.
He stopped Corey Perry on a point-blank shot from in front with 6:40 left and turned away David Perron’s wrist shot with less than three minutes to go.
Nashville brought out Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker to wave a towel and charge up the sellout crowd. Fans just needed something to cheer after watching the Predators get outscored 12-3 in losing the last three games.
They also got winger Craig Smith back on the ice after he missed most of the last three games with a lower-body injury.
Ekholm put the Predators up 1-0 at 8:10 of the second period, beating Frederik Andersen with a wrister from the top of the right circle off a pass from Calle Jarnkrok. That made the defenceman Nashville’s top goal scorer with his second in this series.
Fans rewarded the Predators with not one, but two standing ovations in the period.
The Predators took a 2-0 lead when Ryan Johansen brought the puck up the right side and passed to Neal at the left post who tapped the puck into the net behind Andersen at 17:45.
The Ducks got a power play with 42.8 seconds left in the period when officials penalized Ekholm for holding Hampus Lindholm after the Anaheim defenceman jumped onto Ekholm’s back at the end boards. Kesler tapped the puck into the net behind Rinne who had just stopped a tip-in attempt by Perry. Fans still furious at the penalty tossed a handful of the towels given away by the Predators onto the ice and booed as the period ended.
The only other Game 6 Nashville won came in 2011 when clinching the franchise’s first post-season series win over Anaheim. Andersen passed Jonas Hiller (26) for second for most post-season games played by an Anaheim goalie with his 27th playoff appearance. Predators centre Cody Bass played only one minute, 17 seconds and three shifts before leaving the game with a lower-body injury.