The Canucks put the finishing touches on the Nashville Predators Monday night with a 2-1 win at Bridgestone Arena in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinal.
Mason Raymond and Daniel Sedin scored first period goals for the Canucks, who gave up a second period score to David Legwand and held a 2-1 lead with 20 minutes to play.
The stage was set for yet another late comeback against Vancouver, but the Canucks guarded against their Achilles' heel and when the horn sounded to close out the team’s grittiest, most hard-fought win of the series, Canucks fans everywhere cheered louder than they have in 17 years.
“It’s been one of our goals to make it past the second round for the last couple of years,” said Ryan Kesler, who set up both Vancouver goals.
“We won the first series, but it wasn’t our goal to win one round, we wanted to keep getting better.”
The Canucks did just that, correcting earlier errors committed in the series to close out Game 6 on the attack.
Over the final 20 minutes Vancouver outshot Nashville 10-6 and was routinely in Pekka Rinne’s face; the Canucks were inches from icing the game twice with the net empty late in the game, but the cardiac kids seem to enjoy making life hard on themselves.
“We maybe learned a little from our mistakes in the past that sitting back hasn’t been good for us,” said Kevin Bieksa, “so we stayed on the offence, we had a lot of chances, a lot of shifts in their zone and we weren’t in our zone as much and under as much pressure.”
It would be tough to argue the Canucks were at their best in Game 6, but they dictated play and despite taking some unnecessary penalties, Vancouver was stellar on the kill.
The Canucks wiped out all five Predators power play chances, including four in the first period; in the series Nashville was successful on just 1-of-21 attempts.
I’m not mathematician, but I wouldn’t have failed Grade 10 math with numbers like that.
“I think that was maybe the difference in the series,” said Bieksa, who has played over 39 minutes on the kill in the playoffs, averaging three minutes a game.
“Our PK was flawless all series long and it gave us a lot of momentum and allowed us to play on the edge and play physical and here we are.”
The Canucks advance to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 1994 and the cherry on top is some well earned rest and relaxation. With their opponent yet to be determined, Vancouver should have the majority of this week to give the mind, body and soul a break, in addition to getting some crucial practice time.
“I forgot what that feels like, seems like we haven’t practiced in forever,” laughed Roberto Luongo, after his 23 save effort. “It’s going to be nice to get a few days to recuperate. We’ve had a pretty emotional first two rounds and it’s going to be nice to just relax and enjoy.”
Added Kesler: “It was very important [to end it tonight]. We’ve been battling hard for the last few weeks here and for us to get a couple of days rest, it’s needed.”
Just when you thought he couldn’t get any better, he does.
And Ryan Kesler didn’t even score in Game 6.
Kesler merely set up both Canucks goals to take the NHL playoff scoring lead with five goals and 10 assists in 13 games, he added a shot, hit, blocked shot, two takeaways and 18 faceoff wins on 29 attempts to his stat line to close out, what Nashville coach Barry Trotz described as, “one of the most incredible six games you will ever see.”
In short: Kesler = amazing.
“Everyone needs to up their game and for me, I’ve got to lead by example,” said Kesler, who personified a true leader like never before.
Rarely does the opposing coaching staff offer up more than a congratulations during the series-ending handshakes, but coach Trotz and company took the time to acknowledge what a sensational series the 26-year-old had.
“They just said great series and we couldn’t stop you,” said Kesler. “I really appreciate coaches saying that, they’re great coaches and it’s very humbling when you’ve got the other coaches saying that.”
It’s always nice to hear it from teammates as well.
“He really elevated his game and I think that’s the thing, his will and determination,” said Bieksa.
“Obviously he’s got the skill set, but he wants it as badly as anybody and he showed it in this series.”
It’s down to the San Jose Sharks and Detroit Red Wings.
Either the Sharks or Wings will advance to face the Canucks in the Western Conference Final, with Game 6 of their Semifinal series slated for Tuesday night in Detroit.
San Jose held a 3-0 series lead before back-to-back wins by Detroit turned a sure sweep into a series.
Who would the Canucks prefer to meet in Round 3?
“We’re going to sit and watch with smiles on our faces, it doesn’t really matter for us,” said Henrik Sedin.
Vancouver isn’t worry about it and neither should you. Enjoy this win, be safe and responsible, but keep this in your back pocket: the Canucks were 3-0-1 against San Jose and 2-0-2 against Detroit during the regular season.
Game 6 marked the 78th playoff game for the Sedins, moving them past the Sutters for most by brothers in NHL history; the Canucks recorded only two shots in the second period to match a franchise playoff low set on April 22, 1996, versus Colorado; Jeff Tambellini made his NHL playoff debut recording one blocked shot in 4:41 of ice time.