Running out of time and chances, and stuck below the goal line, Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter threw the puck on net and hoped to get a whistle.
He did better than that, netting the tying goal with 67 seconds left in regulation.
That forced overtime and set the stage for Matt Halischuk’s winner 14:51 into the second extra session that gave the Predators a 2-1 win in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinal series and tied it at 1 on Saturday night.
”I was just trying to get it on net and get a whistle and got a fortunate bounce and went in,” Suter said of his shot that went between Roberto Luongo’s legs and bounced in off the goalie’s left skate.
After Pekka Rinne made several spectacular saves in the extra periods, Nick Spaling took Suter’s entry pass and fed the puck cross-ice to Halischuk. He quickly snapped a shot over a sprawling defender and the glove of Luongo, giving the Predators the win that got them back into the first second-round series in team history.
”I was just trying to get it off as hard and quick as I could,” Halischuk said. ”Tried to pick my spot and luckily it went in.”
Rinne made it possible with several acrobatic game-saving stops in extra time, finishing with 18 of his 32 stops after regulation.
”He was definitely their best player,” said Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa, who had an empty net taken away by a headfirst dive from Rinne with 2:14 left in the first overtime. ”We had plenty of chances to win it in overtime and plenty of chances to go up 2-0, and he stood on his head.”
Alex Burrows scored a short-handed goal two minutes into the second period and it appeared Luongo would make it stand up for his second straight shutout. But Suter tied it on Nashville’s 36th shot, a harmless looking centering pass.
”Obviously, you don’t want to give up a goal late,” said Luongo, who finished with 44 saves. ”Sometimes it happens. We had a chance to win.”
But after little action in regulation, Rinne looked in overtime like the Vezina Trophy finalist that shut down the Canucks for most of Game 1.
He robbed Henrik Sedin alone atop the crease on a rebound early in overtime and stretched out to turn away Maxim Lapierre with a minute left as the Predators avoided losing consecutive games for the first time since early March.
The save that stood out was against Bieksa, who appeared to have the whole net after a beautiful cross-ice pass from Henrik Sedin before Rinne dove.
”Obviously, I was a little bit fortunate,” Rinne said. ”Sedin made a nice pass to Bieksa and I was able to get my blocker and my stick over there.”
Asked how he refocused after no early action, Rinne said, ”you have no choice.”
”It’s sudden death and you try to be ready for every single situation, every single shot,” he added. ”It was easy to stay focused, especially in overtime, it seemed like they were shooting more, and it’s always fun when that happens.”
Game 3 is Tuesday at Nashville, and the Predators are happy to be going home.
”It was a big game for us momentum- and confidence-wise,” Rinne said.
It was also the longest game in Predators history, and the third longest for the top-seeded Canucks, who won the series opener 1-0 on Thursday but have now given up home-ice advantage to Nashville. The Predators will host the next two games before the series returns to Vancouver for Game 5.
Unlike the opener, in which the Canucks outplayed the Predators and Luongo’s toughest task was staying awake, Nashville carried the play in Game 2. They had a 36-15 shot advantage in regulation, forcing Luongo to make several good saves, including a stacked-pads stop on Jordin Tootoo’s breakaway with 8:46 left.
”We played Predator hockey,” coach Barry Trotz said. ”We played with conviction. We played with discipline. Our work ethic was there. We had a lot more detail. I thought in regulation we had the majority of the play. We had the better chances, we just couldn’t convert.”
After Burrows scored his the fourth of the playoffs – all in the last four games – while Vancouver was short-handed, the Canucks tried to ride Luongo to a second straight 1-0 win over the Predators.
Luongo stuffed Mike Fisher on a 3-on-1, power-play rush in the second, made a right pad save on defenseman Shea Weber’s blast from the top of the circles, and just got David Legwand’s wraparound as Nashville pushed hard in the third.
But Luongo looked bad on Suter’s shot from well below the goal line, ending his shutout streak at 126 minutes, 11 seconds – his best stretch in the playoffs.
”We banged our head against Luongo all night and he made a lot of key saves, but he couldn’t get that one and it was a great confidence boost,” Rinne said.
NOTES: Predators RW Martin Erat, who missed two games in Round 1 with a suspected concussion, left briefly after getting hit in the head by Weber’s deflected slap shot. … Nashville coach Barry Trotz said he was considering using forwards J.P. Dumont and Colin Wilson, but neither played. … Vancouver D Sami Salo, out since Game 6 in Chicago because of an undisclosed injury, skated on his own Saturday and is expected to travel to Nashville.