The Nashville Predators think Ryan Kesler got away with holding Shea Weber’s stick to set up the winning power-play goal in overtime.
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One thing is certain.
Kesler grabbed both the momentum and home-ice advantage back for the Vancouver Canucks.
”It feels good to get this one and good to go up 2-1 in the series,” Kesler said.
Kesler hadn’t scored a goal in the playoffs until Tuesday night, and his second power-play goal at 10:45 of overtime lifted Vancouver past the Predators 3-2. They lead the Western Conference semifinal series 2-1 with Game 4 on Thursday night in Nashville.
”They are a real strong team that doesn’t give you much, and they battle real hard,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. ”That is the type of game that we saw tonight. Every team had to fight for every inch on the ice.”
Fans in the sellout crowd reacted angrily to the winning goal, throwing towels and other debris onto the ice.
Kesler scored his first two goals of the postseason and had an assist, and Chris Higgins had a goal for Vancouver. Christian Ehrhoff had two assists as the Canucks, the Presidents’ Trophy winners in the regular season, bounced back from a 2-1, double-overtime loss in Game 2.
Joel Ward and David Legwand both scored for the Predators, who matched the Canucks’ energy but not their shots. Vancouver outshot Nashville 40-26 through regulation and 47-30 overall.
Kesler drew the penalty 10:05 into the extra period that gave the Canucks the decisive power play. He stayed bent over, trapping Weber’s stick while the defenseman pounded on him trying to get his stick back. Weber was sent off for hooking on the questionable call.
Nashville coach Barry Trotz called it a bad penalty, especially what he saw going uncalled. He also credited Kesler with selling the penalty.
”He chicken-winged the stick and kept moving, and really if you look at it, Webs is pushing on him, trying to pull his stick out of there,” Trotz said. ”I’ve seen it before. One of the earlier games, he drew a couple penalties like that by chicken-winging the stick and just holding it there and keep moving and see if he can sell it.”
Weber said it was unfortunate a call like that cost the Predators the game.
Just 40 seconds later, Kesler tipped in a shot from Mikael Samuelsson for the winning goal that put the Canucks back in front in the series.
”It was a great shot by Samuelsson,” Kesler said. ”I just tried to get in front of him. I saw it coming at me, and I just tried to get out of the way. It was a great shot. For us, we worked hard enough. We were the harder working team.”
Ward tied it 2-2 with 6:42 left in regulation, skating behind the net and sweeping the puck into the open net past goalie Roberto Luongo’s outstretched left leg. That woke up the sellout crowd.
Vigneault switched up his lines, moving Alex Burrows back with the Sedin twins. The move worked early as Burrows had a shot from in front that was stopped by goalie Pekka Rinne. The Canucks fired many shots at Rinne early, recording as many in the first period (15) as they did all of regulation in Game 2.
But Legwand put the Predators ahead 1-0 at 10:18 when he got the puck behind the net. Ryan Suter fed it back to him, and Legwand scored his third goal this postseason on Nashville’s fourth shot with a wrister from in front.
Nashville nearly had a second goal when the puck bounced off Matt Halischuk, who scored the winning goal on Saturday night. Canucks center Maxim Lapierre shoved Halischuk into the crossbar and knocked the net off its moorings. The play was reviewed and the goal was waved off.
Luongo, who stopped 44 shots in Game 2, stretched his right leg out and stopped Steve Sullivan on a breakaway chance with 2:02 left in the first to keep it.
”Obviously, we need key saves at key times, and we got some,” Vigneault said. ”They also had some key saves at critical times. Both goaltenders are the best in the league, so we are getting a real good battle in there.”
Then Jerred Smithson was penalized for high-sticking Luongo with 17.4 seconds left after he grazed the goalie’s mask.
The Canucks opened the second period with the man advantage, and Kesler scored on an easy tap-in 60 seconds in. He took advantage of Rinne moving outside the crease, defending against Ehrhoff, who slipped the puck behind the goalie. It was the first power-play goal for either team in this series.
The Predators spent so much energy on defense they didn’t take a shot until there was 3:01 left in the period, and that was a gift as Patric Hornqvist dumped the puck in on Luongo.
”We’ve got to win Thursday night,” Legwand said. ”I think we’ve got to come back and be ready to bounce back.”
NOTES: With Kesler’s goals, the Canucks improved to 2 of 10 in this series and 3 of 26 overall against Nashville with the man advantage this season. … Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin – the NHL scoring champion this season – had an assist for his first point of the series. … Nashville went 0 of 3 and is 0 of 26 on the power play against Vancouver. … Suter had an assist on Legwand’s goal and has three points in two games. … Sullivan sustained an undisclosed lower body injury late in regulation and didn’t return.