NASHVILLE -- An incredible postseason run came to an end on Monday night.
Despite clawing their way back from a two-goal deficit, one last comeback wasn't in the cards for the Ducks, who lost 6-3 in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final at Bridgestone Arena.
The Predators eliminated the Ducks in a classic series between two teams that gave it everything they had. Nashville will advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history, and will take on the winner of the Ottawa-Pittsburgh series.
Ondrej Kase, Chris Wagner and Cam Fowler scored for the Ducks, who never wavered in the face of adversity. Jonathan Bernier made his first career postseason start, but gave up four goals on just 16 shots.
"This is the worst feeling in hockey," said captain Ryan Getzlaf, who finished the postseason with a team-high 19 points (8g/11a) in 17 games. "Your season is over and you're not holding the cup. It doesn't matter what round it is. It still hurts."
The Ducks peppered Pekka Rinne with 41 shots and had a 25-8 shot advantage through 40 minutes of play, but the veteran goaltender turned aside 38 in total, including 14 of 16 in the third period.
"We played like crazy all night long," said Getzlaf. "We threw 41 shots at the net. The power play needs to be more responsible and better when we're out there. It's 3-3 [score of the game] on the power play and we gave up a goal, and that's the difference in the hockey game.
The Predators were led by Colton Sissons' first career postseason hat trick. Other scorers for Nashville included Austin Watson (two goals) and Filip Forsberg.
"I look at the game and I look at our body of work and how we played, I don't think I'd complain about our effort," said Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle. "Yeah, we could make some definite improvements in our execution. But our effort was there and we were a desperate hockey club right from the opening faceoff and we didn't quit until they scored the second empty-net goal."
An eyesore for the Ducks tonight (and for the duration of the postseason) was their power play, which went 0-for-4, none bigger than their missed opportunity with less than 10 minutes to play in the third period when the score was 3-3.
"We had a plan to try to direct more pucks towards the net," said Carlyle. "And they were pressuring up high. So what we felt we needed to do is to go up over and back and then deliver pucks to the net with two people in front, but we didn't seem to be able to execute at the level that was required. And when we did, their goaltender got to see again too many shots. They did a good job boxing us out, not allowing our people to get to the net to create the screens."
It didn't take the Predators very long to get on the board. Just 1:21 into the game, the Predators won an offensive-zone draw clean that allowed Watson to gain possession of the puck just outside the right faceoff dot. An innocent wrist shot caromed off Brandon Montour and past Bernier for his third career postseason goal - all in this series.
Nashville increased its lead to 2-0 when another wrist shot, this time from Sissons, beat Bernier blocker-side at the 8:47 mark of the first period. Sissons' goal came on just the third shot on goal for the Predators.
Minutes later, Nick Ritchie's night ended when he was dealt a five-minute major and a game misconduct for boarding Viktor Arvidsson at the 11:38 mark of the period. The Ducks, collectively, rose to the challenge, and managed to kill off the five-minute major without allowing a shot on goal. In fact, the best scoring chance came from Josh Manson, who snuck down for a point-blank chance that Rinne denied with a desperation stop.
The Ducks came out with authority in the second period, and their hard work paid off when Kase buried a nice feed from Getzlaf. It was the second goal of the playoffs for Kase, who happened to be at the right place at the right time when Getzlaf's pass snuck behind Predators defenseman Matt Irwin.
Video: ANA@NSH, Gm6: Kase buries Getzlaf's smooth dish
Kase's tally served as the lone goal of the middle frame, which was dominated by Anaheim. The Ducks, who held a 12-4 shot advantage after the opening 20 minutes, went into the second intermission with 25 shots compared to Nashville's eight.
Despite coming out strong to begin the third, the Ducks found themselves in a two-goal hole once more when Sissons buried a loose puck amidst a sea of players. It was a jam shot that Bernier never tracked down, and it brought the sellout crowd back to life.
But the Ducks, the ever-resilient Ducks, got the goal back when Wagner's chip shot went up and over Rinne's right shoulder just two minutes after Sissons' tally. The goal stunned the raucous crowd, which was in the midst of a lengthy chant directed at Bernier.
Video: ANA@NSH, Gm6: Wagner banks in goal off Rinne
They weren't done. Just minutes later, Fowler's point shot found its way win past Corey Perry's screen in front. The goal came at the 8:52 mark of the third period, but had to be reviewed after the Predators challenged the play. Upon further review, the call on the ice stood.
Video: ANA@NSH, Gm6: Fowler beats Rinne through traffic
Nashville regained the lead with just six minutes remaining in regulation when Sissons was given time and space to bury a one-timer from the left faceoff dot for his third goal of the game.
An empty-net goal from Forsberg with 2:22 remaining in regulation sealed the game for the Preds, who went up 5-3. Nashville tacked on another empty-net goal to make it 6-3 with 1:34 remaining.
After the final buzzer sounded, players and coaches from both teams took part in one of the best time-honored traditions in professional sports - the postgame handshake.
"There is a lot of fight in this room, and this one is going to sting for a while," said Perry. "You've got to give them credit too though, they played well, their goalie played well, they're a structured team. They don't stray away from that, and it works. On our side, we worked hard tonight. We fell short but we threw a lot of pucks at Rinne tonight, and a lot of second opportunities were there."