The Nashville Predators finally might have turned Music City into Hockeytonk.
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Nick Spaling scored his second goal of the game at 4:53 of the third period and the Predators won a playoff series for the first time in their history, beating the Anaheim Ducks 4-2 on Sunday.
”I’m happy because I think of the resiliency of the group that worked so hard all year, and I’m relieved because there is a little bit of a cloud that we wanted to get to the next level,” said Barry Trotz, the only coach of the franchise that hit the ice in the 1998-99 season.
”And if we never got there in this series, I think there would be a little bit of a carry-over.”
Now the only questions about this team in the nontraditional hockey market is who the fifth-seeded Predators play in the Western Conference semifinals.
Steve Sullivan scored a goal, David Legwand had an empty-netter and Jordin Tootoo assisted on Spaling’s goals. The Predators won the series 4-2 in their sixth postseason in seven seasons to avoid going back to Anaheim for Game 7.
Goaltender Pekka Rinne called the victory an amazing feeling before yet another sellout crowd.
”We really had a lot of push tonight,” Rinne said. ”We had a lot of emotion, and we really wanted to get it done tonight in our home building and just you know right now it was a tough series. And they have such a good team. They are never out of the game. it doesn’t matter what we do, they always seem to respond.”
”It was a great matchup and just couldn’t be more happier to come out as a winner of this series.”
Jason Blake scored a power-play goal, and Teemu Selanne also had a goal for the Ducks in what might have been the final game for the 40-year-old Finn. Anaheim looked tired early after blowing a lead late before losing Game 5 in overtime. They looked tired late as coach Randy Carlyle went heavily with his top two lines trying to rally.
”You cannot give up four goals an dexpect to win consistently, and I thought we provided enough offense in the series,” Carlyle said. ”We didn’t provide enough defense. The game in Anaheim with them scoring with 35 seconds left kind of put a dagger in us that you’re not afforded many mistakes.”
Anaheim lost in the opening round for the third time in seven playoffs.
Spaling scored his first two goals in the postseason. His second came off a rebound of Tootoo’s shot, shortly after Nashville thought it had gone ahead only to have Patric Hornqvist’s goal waived off because of a high stick. The call was upheld after a length video review.
”There’s a new first every game,” Trotz said. ”That was a first for us. How would we handle that in Game 6, and we handled it just fine.”
The Ducks didn’t go away easily, not with a power-play unit that has been the NHL’s best this postseason. They got the man advantage almost midway through the period when Mike Fisher was penalized for tripping.
But Selanne hit a post, and Rinne, the Vezina Trophy finalist, stopped Blake late to protect the lead. Nashville, the team built from the goalie out through its defense, finished off the win.
Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry were held scoreless for a second straight game. Legwand said Trotz came to him before the faceoff and told him they needed a big game from his line.
”He didn’t want that Getzlaf line scoring,” Legwand said. ”Obviously, they’re going to get chances. They didn’t put any on the board tonight. That’s a huge factor in the series and huge for us.”
Anaheim took its timeout with 60 seconds left, having already pulled goalie Ray Emery, who kept the Ducks close by stopping Tootoo on a breakaway, then Matt Halischuk on a rebound. But Legwand scored into the empty net with 9.2 seconds left to wrap up the Predators’ biggest win ever.
”I felt that we couldn’t play at our level, … and that’s disappointing,” Selanne said. ”But what are you going to do? It’s too late now. We gave everything that we had.”
Carlyle started the game with Matt Beleskey on the top line with Perry and Getzlaf. Bobby Ryan found himself on the third line with Brandon McMillan and right wing Dan Sexton in his first playoff game. Jarkko Ruutu also played after sitting out his one-game suspension and only dressed six defensemen after having used seven at times in the series.
The Ducks had a 2-on-1 chance in the opening minute, but Cam Fowler couldn’t handle the bouncing puck off a pass from Perry. Then the Predators kept the play in front of Emery, outshooting the Ducks 6-2 before Selanne skated around the net and flipped a backhand past his fellow Finn, Rinne, with 9:38 left in the first for a 1-0 lead.
”Nobody tried harder, nobody cared more, nobody did more in this series than Teemu Selanne, and it’s an emotional time for him right now because of what happened,” Carlyle said. ”There is always that looming, `Is this the last one,’ and I’m sure he doesn’t want to go out feeling the way he does right now.”
Tootoo helped set up Spaling for the tying goal with 27.9 seconds left in the first, finding Spaling for a wrister past Emery.
Sullivan put the Predators up 2-1 when he broke up the right, used his skate to kick a pass from J.P. Dumont to his stick and then beat Emery with a backhander at 3:29 of the second. Dumont played his second straight game in place of Martin Erat, scratched because an upper-body injury after the hit that earned Ruutu his suspension.
Carlyle put Ryan back with Getzlaf and Perry in the second, trying to generate more offense. The Ducks spent much more time in front of Rinne, but they finally got the break they needed when Dumont tripped Luca Sbisa and gave them their first power play.
Blake tipped in a shot by Ryan in tying it at 2 with 1:37 left in the second.
NOTES: Selanne’s goal off an assist from Saku Koivu extended their points streaks to six games, the longest in this postseason. Selanne had six goals and an assist, and Koivu had a goal and six assists in the series. … Anaheim is 7-2 in Game 6s. … Tootoo had five points in the series, topping the total he had in his 24 playoff games before this season. … Blake’s power-play goal improved Anaheim to 8 of 21 with the man advantage in the series, best this postseason. Blake’s goal was his fourth of the series.