NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Anaheim Ducks led the Nashville Predators by three different scores on Wednesday entering the third period. Each time the Ducks went ahead, Nashville rallied, twice tying the game.
But when Corey Perry scored shorthanded at 1:17 of the third period, the goal seemed to break the Predators’ backs.
Anaheim added two more goals in quick succession, chasing Predators goalie Pekka Rinne from the net after allowing six goals on 31 shots, and the Ducks sent the Western Conference Quarterfinal series back to Anaheim tied at two games apiece with a 6-3 win at Bridgestone Arena.
"You're fortunate any time you can score a goal shorthanded," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "I thought Brandon McMillan made the play driving the middle lane. Corey is very deceptive on one-on-one plays."
The series moves back to Anaheim on Friday for Game 5 when the Ducks regain the services of high-scoring left wing Bobby Ryan, who was suspended for Games 3 and 4 for a kicking incident. The Predators are trying to win a playoff series for the first time in franchise history.
"Yeah, it's always nice when you get home ice advantage back and when you get one of your top guys back, too," said Perry, who led the League in goals during the regular season. "It's nice to have him back and we've just got to be ready to play."
Perry's shorthanded goal – the Ducks' third special teams goal of the night – put Anaheim ahead to stay. They were 2-for-6 on the power play along with the one shorthanded goal. Perry skated in on a 2-on-2 and fooled Rinne with a backhander to the glove side.
"Yeah, he kind of used the other two guys going across as a screen," said Rinne, whose regular season might have been good enough to earn him the honor of being a Vezina Trophy finalist. "He was able to get that by and that's a huge goal for them and changed the momentum of the game and obviously wished that I could make that stop, but that's in the past now."
Ryan Getzlaf made it 5-3 when scored on a delayed penalty call 2:34 later. Getzlaf circled down low and with plenty of time at the left circle, sized up Rinne and zipped a shot past him.
McMillan put the game away when he beat Rinne through the five-hole on a breakaway at 6:46. Rookie Anders Lindback then relieved Rinne.
Nashville entered the game with a chance to take a commanding lead in the series – in five tries it has never led a playoff series by two games – but coach Barry Trotz said they played their worst game of the series, just as Anaheim had said about itself after a 4-3 loss in Game 3. The Ducks were outshot in that game 37-16 and spent two days licking their wounds.
Carlyle tinkered with his lineup, playing seven defensemen, bulking up with some added size in the form of Andy Sutton and Andreas Lilja. Jarkko Ruutu also returned to the lineup for the first time since Game 1.
"We just felt that the way we played the other night needed a little more size on the back end," Carlyle said. "We hadn't played Sutton and Lilja in a while. (Luca) Sbisa, (Cam) Fowler, McMillan, (Matt) Beleskey are very young players. We thought they might be a little more comfortable having a 6foot-5 defenseman and another 6-foot-3 220-pound defenseman. It gave us a little more overall size."
With plenty of energy to start the game, the Ducks jumped all over Nashville, scoring twice in the game's first 5:14.
Fowler's power-play slap shot from high on the left side went through traffic and eluded the catching glove of Rinne at 4:41. Just 33 seconds later, Saku Koivu banged in the rebound of Jason Blake's shot after a Nashville turnover for a 2-0 lead.
Trotz quickly called his called timeout – and the strategy worked, as Patric Hornqvist scored 31 second later on a 3-on-2. Sergei Kostitsyn carried the puck down the left side. Center Mike Fisher went to the net, drawing Ducks defenseman Toni Lydman with him. That left a lane open for Hornqvist on the right wing, and he buried Kostitsyn’s cross-ice pass to make it 2-1.
Nashville tied it 5:44 into the second period when Cody Franson used Joel Ward's screen to blast a slap shot past Ducks goalie Ray Emery at 5:44 during a power play. Ruutu was in the box for interference, a hit that sent Nashville's Martin Erat to the locker room. Erat, who had what was deemed an upper-body injury, did not return.
After the game, Trotz said he had no more information about Erat's status. The Ducks snuck back ahead by taking advantage of a four-minute high-sticking penalty on Ward, who cut Blake. With 18 seconds left on the power play, Teemu Selanne scored his League-high fifth goal of the playoffs by redirecting Getzlaf's shot past Rinne at 11:41.
But the Predators didn't waste much time in answering. Rookie fourth-liner Matt Halischuk created a turnover in the neutral zone and raced up the left wing. He stopped and passed back to Kevin Klein at the right point. Klein skated around the net and found Halischuk at the left post for a quick shot past Emery at 14:15 to even the score at 3-3.
Carlyle has characterized the series as having little space to fight for the puck with plenty of hard body checks. It now will go at least six games and seven would not be a surprise.
Trotz was disappointed with the play of his entire defense corps.
"All game I thought we were making just major blunders," Trotz said. "Poor decisions... We didn't go back hard to get pucks. We were making poor decisions and were not real strong there. We turned over too many pucks by our forwards in the neutral zone."