ANAHEIM - For the Anaheim Ducks to advance to the Stanley Cup Final, they'll have to do it in another Game 7 at home, but first they have to take care of business again in Nashville.
Anaheim fell behind with plenty of time left in the third but never recovered in a 3-1 defeat to the Predators in Game 5 at Honda Center. That put the Ducks in a 3-2 hole in this highly contentious Western Conference Final which heads to a do-or-die Game 6 in Music City.
"I didn't think our compete level was where it needed to be," Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said. "They came out and worked harder than us in the second and third periods, and that was the difference in the hockey game."
The Ducks nearly took the lead just past the middle point of the third period during a scramble in front of the Nashville net, but goalie Pekka Rinne (32 saves) held his ground yet again. Seconds later, the Predators turned the tables by getting the go-ahead dagger at the other end with 8:59 left. Pontus Aberg picked up a rebound off a Filip Forsberg shot just outside the crease and wrapped it around goalie Jonathan Bernier to make it 2-1.
The goal appeared to deflate the Ducks, who had trouble keeping possession over the next eight minutes, let alone generating a scoring chance. The final straw came with Bernier on the bench for an extra attacker, when Jakob Silfverberg's stick broke in half as he was trying to make a pass, and Austin Watson fired the puck into the empty net from the Predators zone.
"We didn't seem to execute to the level we've been accustomed to," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "I thought we did okay for the first half of the game, but we seemed to run out of gas. We got frustrated with their neutral ice. Pekka Rinne made far too many plays with the puck tonight on our dumps. That was a huge factor. We made it pretty easy for them."
Anaheim starter John Gibson stopped all 10 Nashville shots in the first, but he suffered a lower-body injury late in the period and was replaced by Bernier (17 saves on 19 shots). The injury was just the latest for both teams, as Nashville was without captain Mike Fisher and high-scoring Ryan Johansen, while Anaheim forward Rickard Rakell was announced out with a lower-body injury just before puck drop.
Carlyle indicated Gibson told coaches he would be available for Game 6, but he still needs to be evaluated by medical staff. Rakell and Patrick Eaves, who hasn't played since Game 3 of the Second Round with a lower body injury, are both day-to-day, according to Carlyle.
After almost 33 minutes of scoreless hockey, the Ducks finally broke through on the rush when Silfverberg made a nice touch pass to Brandon Montour, whose snipe from the slot created a rebound that Chris Wagner punched home to give Anaheim the first lead.
Video: NSH@ANA, Gm5: Wagner buries Montour's rebound
Josh Manson was called for a cross-checking penalty after he took a high stick that didn't get called, and Nashville took advantage of the ensuing power play. Colin Wilson backhanded in a loose puck with 40.3 seconds left in the middle frame to make it 1-1.
Eight minutes later came Aberg's first of the postseason, and the Ducks hardly threatened again, as their vaunted resilience in this postseason never emerged on the 10-year anniversary of their franchise-defining overtime victory in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final in Detroit.
"It's on the individual to get yourself prepared and figure out where we are," Wasnger said. "It's a privilege to be here. We've earned it. You have to take that opportunity and use it to the best of our advantage. We have two must-win games now, so we don't really have a choice whether to bring our effort or not."
The loss for Anaheim snapped its seven-game win streak in Game 5s dating to a 3-2 overtime victory in the 2013 Western Conference Quarterfinal on May 8, 2013 vs. Detroit.
As if there wasn't enough aggression in this series, a bevy of roughing penalties came from several Ducks and Predators in a fracas with less than 10 seconds in the game, setting the stage for Game 6 Monday night in Nashville, while a potential Game 7 comes Wednesday at Honda Center.
"We're not going to hang our heads and be doom and gloom," Carlyle said. "We'll flush this and get ourselves ready. We'll re-energize our group and look forward to playing a better game than we played tonight. We've won in that building before, so it doesn't really matter where we go. We can have success if we play to our capabilities."