NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Vancouver Canucks, the NHL's highest-scoring team during the regular season, finally found a way to get out of the defensive straitjacket that is the Nashville Predators.
Ryan Kesler, who had yet to score in the playoffs after getting 41 goals in the regular season, broke out in Game 3 with two power-play goals, including the game-winner 10:45 into overtime, to give the Canucks a 3-2 victory at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday night and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Canucks seemed dangerously close to repeating their showing in Game 2, in which they blew a late one-goal lead and then lost in overtime. The did allow the tying goal late in the third period -- but this time, they found a way to win.
"We've played different types of games throughout the season," said Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo, whose save on Steve Sullivan's breakaway late in the first period prevented Nashville from gaining a 2-0 lead. "We've played some high-scoring games, some low-scoring games, but I think the great thing about this team is that we're comfortable in every situation.
"There was no panic tonight, even after they tied it up. We just kept at her and we worked for our break and we got it."
Kesler's game-winner came on a power play after he drew a hooking call on Nashville defenseman Shea Weber, a Norris Trophy finalist, at 10:05 of overtime. With forward Mikael Samuelsson manning the point -- Canucks coach Alain Vigneault took Alex Edler off the power play after a bad play by Edler led to a shorthanded goal in the first period -- Kesler tipped Samuelsson's point shot past Pekka Rinne 40 seconds after the penalty call.
Said Vigneault of replacing Edler on the unit, "Eddie lost the puck and it ended up in the back of our net. Easy call."
Nashville coach Barry Trotz said Kesler used a "chicken wing" – clamping Weber's stick between his torso and right arm -- as the two battled for a puck along the boards in Nashville's zone to win the call.
"They'll say it's a good penalty," Trotz said, "I'll say it's a bad penalty."
Nashville's David Legwand admitted that Weber should not have had his stick where it was "in the first place" but said it was a "pretty touchy call for overtime."
Said Weber: "It's unfortunate that a call like that cost us the game."
Not surprisingly, Kesler saw it differently.
"He was hooking me," he said. "I thought it was a good call."
The goal spoiled a brilliant performance by Rinne, who stopped 44 shots. Luongo made 28 saves.
Game 4 is Thursday night in Nashville (8:30 p.m., Versus, CBC, RDS).
Up 2-1 late in the third period, Vancouver allowed Nashville to tie the game. Joel Ward scored with 6:42 left in regulation after the Predators won an offensive zone faceoff. Ward took the puck behind the net undefended, came out on the other side and slid a shot that hit a skate and under Roberto Luongo's left leg before sliding inside the far post.
Vancouver took a 2-1 lead at 3:03 of the third period. Chris Higgins started the play by skating down the left wing hard towards the Predators goal. Shane O'Brien took him down and was going to be called for a delayed penalty, but the hit pushed Higgins into Rinne. With the goaltender out of position, Kesler got the puck to Higgins, who whirled and fired from the outer edge of the right circle for the go-ahead goal.
Through the first two periods, Vancouver outshot Nashville 24-12, which reflected in scoring chances as well.
Jerred Smithson took his second minor of the first period when he was trying to harass a Vancouver defenseman who was behind the net trying to make an outlet pass.
Instead, Smithson hit Luongo in the head with his stick. Exactly one minute into the second period, the Canucks made Nashville pay for that penalty.
Off a bit of a broken play, Vancouver defenseman Christian Ehrhoff skated all the way through Nashville's zone, drawing out Rinne. Ehrhoff then slid a pass through the goalmouth that Kesler fired into an open net for his first goal.
After getting outshot 10-1 to start the game, Nashville took a 1-0 lead by scoring a shorthanded goal at 10:18 of the opening period. With Smithson off for roughing Alex Burrows, Legwand stripped Edler of the puck behind Vancouver's net. Edler was going to be called for a delayed penalty while Legwand sent the puck to Nick Spaling in the corner. Ryan Suter skated deep into the zone to take a pass from Spaling and then found Legwand wide open in front of the net for the goal.
With 7:31 left in the period, Vancouver's Maxim Lapierre received an interference call for a hit that sent the head of Nashville's Matt Halischuk into the crossbar, dislodging the net. On the play, the puck crossed the goal line and officials reviewed to see if it were a goal. However, replay officials ruled no goal.
In the end, Nashville's Trotz said it "wasn't our best effort." Thus far, Nashville's efforts have been uneven in this series – poor in Game 1, excellent in Game 2, sloppy in Game 3.
They'll have to straighten it out to extend the series.
"They were beating to us more pucks," Trotz said. "We weren't getting it deep and we didn't have any support, not being real strong in the neutral zone. Our decisions at the blue line were suspect…
"We were trying to get too cute."
And that is not what Trotz would call "Predators hockey."