For the second consecutive game Ryan Kesler took the bull by the horns for Vancouver scoring the game-winning goal and picking up a pair of assists pacing the Canucks to a 4-2 Game 5 win over the Nashville Predators Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena.
The Canucks now lead the best-of-seven Western Conference Semifinal series 3-1.
Christian Ehrhoff and Henrik Sedin also had three point outings and six Canucks had at least a point, but Kesler was again the story of the game, if only for his second straight game-winning goal.
Just over seven minutes in the third period, with Vancouver on the power play, the Canucks worked a set play where Ehrhoff steamed through centre ice before dropping a back pass for Henrik Sedin, who one-timed the puck to Kesler in full stride powering over the red line.
Kesler, taking a page from fellow American Bobby Ryan’s book versus Nashville in Round 1, looked like Superman with a gust of wind at his back as he flew over the blueline before passing the puck to himself as he went around Shane O’Brien. He then gained a step on Shea Weber and blasted a shot towards Pekka Rinne that beat the Predators netminder for his career-high third playoff goal.
Kesler, who, for the second straight game, also drew the penalty that led to the game’s golden goal, now leads the Canucks in points this post-season thanks to six in his last two games, and he admitted he resisted the temptation to shoot high-glove side when in on Rinne.
“High glove is my spot, but I thought I’d go against the grain and see if he was sliding over and he was and it worked out,” smiled Kesler.
It worked out well on that play and in the game itself as Henrik Sedin slid his first goal in 17 games (including regular season) into the empty net late in the third to give the Canucks a two-goal lead for the first time all series and the win.
“It always feels good to score, it’s been a while now so hopefully that’s a start to something better,” said Henrik.
“Big win for us, we played good for 60 minutes, they battled back a few times, but we never stopped going at them and it’s good to come away with the win.”
After combining for a single goal in Game 1, Vancouver and Nashville have steadily increased the output each game from one goal, to three, to five, to six on this night as the Canucks finally got the best of Rinne, scoring a goal per period.
Roberto Luongo, on the other hand, has become the netminder to beat by again giving up two goals or less, which he’s done every game since starting Game 6 of Round 1 on the bench behind Cory Schneider.
He got the message and now he’s delivering one of his own.
The Canucks goaltender has allowed a mere seven goals on his last 142 shots, including two on 21 shots in Game 4; he’s first in the NHL in shutouts, second in playoff wins, his 2.19 goals against average ranks fourth and .921 save percentage ranks him sixth.
Vancouver’s Game 4 win was anything but just another win.
The 3-2 victory puts the Canucks up 3-1 in the series marking the fourth time in franchise history they’ve won three games in Round 2.
If you recall the Western Conference Semifinal in 2003 between Vancouver and Minnesota, you know a 3-1 lead meant nothing as the Wild stormed back with three straight wins to shock the Canucks and take the series.
Go back further then that and a 3-1 lead in Round 2 has been nothing but great for the Canucks as they held that in both 1982 and 1994 as part of the only two Stanley Cup appearances in team history.
Should the Canucks close out the Predators in Game 5 Saturday night at Rogers Arena, it’ll be Vancouver’s first trip to the Western Conference Final since 1994 and just the third all-time.
“We’ve got to treat it as a Game 7, that’s the bottom line,” said Henrik Sedin, on Game 5 in Vancouver. “We want to finish this off as early as possible and at least do our best to do it, you can’t do anything about bounces or anything, but we’ve got to play it like a Game 7.”
The Canucks failed to approach Games 4 and 5 of Round 1 versus Chicago with that mentality and it nearly cost them, but lessons were learned, lessons that Vancouver is hoping to put to use soon.
“We learned a lot from that series, we’ve even learned some from this series,” said Kesler. “It’s going to be the hardest working team that always wins and we’ve got to get our work boots on and we’ve got to close this thing out on Saturday.”
Henrik Sedin went 481 shifts between goals; Nashville had the third best home record during the regular season, dropping consecutive games only once all season as part of a three-game losing streak; 11 Canucks have scored at least one goal this post-season.