ANAHEIM - The jubilation of a long-awaited Game 7 victory for the Ducks at Honda Center was muddled less than 48 hours later by a disappointing finish in the Western Conference Final's opening stanza.
After tying up the visiting Nashville Predators in the third period, the Ducks ultimately dropped Game 1 on a goal by Nashville's James Neal 9:24 into the first overtime. With the Ducks scrambling to get into position after the Predators nearly ended it seconds earlier, Neal hammered a one-timer off a nice P.K. Subban feed that struck a falling Corey Perry in the head and fluttered past goalie John Gibson.
It was a disappointing finish to an impressive night for Gibson, who set a personal playoff high with 43 saves. At the other end, Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne remained outstanding in these playoffs with 27 stops.
"We knew they were going to come hard," Gibson said of a Predators team that has last played Sunday night when they eliminated the St. Louis Blues in six games. "It was their first game in a while. We weren't our best, but we lost in overtime. If you look at the first period, they really came on us with a lot of pressure. We haven't played a team like that in a while. We got better as the game went on."
The Ducks have had a lead for only 23:58 of their last 255 minutes of play since late in Game 4 of their series with Edmonton. They won three times in that span, including Game 7 two nights ago in Anaheim, but couldn't pull it off tonight.
"We can't afford to have the start we had today," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "We were receiving the game and our goaltender should get full credit for keeping us in the game.
After a lengthy stretch of middling play in the opening two periods, the Ducks tied it 2-2 with 12:39 left in the third when a Nate Thompson faceoff win came back to Hampus Lindholm, whose wrister from the point sailed through a tight window before kissing off the post and landing in the back of the net.
Video: NSH@ANA, Gm1: Lindholm strikes off a faceoff
With the crowd brought to new life, a number of Ducks attempts to get another tally down the stretch in the third and in overtime fell by the wayside.
"This time of the year, you can't have excuses," Lindholm said. "You just have to go out there, play hard and win games. That's what it's all about. They wanted it a little more than us tonight."
The Ducks found themselves on their heels halfway through the third when Ryan Getzlaf and Thompson each fired the puck over the glass within a half-minute of each other, forcing Anaheim to defend a 5-on-3. But the Ducks valiantly killed off both penalties with the help of some stellar saves by Gibson. Yet they couldn't capitalize off the momentum, even when they got a power play of their own with just under six minutes left in regulation.
"We have to get some momentum on the power play, or at least play well so our guys get going," Lindholm said. "When you kill a 5-on-3 like that, and then you get a power play, you have to [convert]."
The Ducks didn't get off a shot in the game's first five minutes, but their first one was a beauty. Jakob Silfverberg chased down the puck in the right wing circle and blindly slung a shot on net that found the far top corner to make it 1-0.
Video: NSH@ANA, Gm1: Silfverberg wires a wrister top shelf
Nashville owned the period otherwise, outshooting the Ducks 13-1 at one point, and it was the 13th bid that finally got through when a Matt Irwin point shot was tipped under Gibson by Filip Forsberg.
The Preds went in front 2-1 early in the second period on a lucky bounce after an Austin Watson one-timer deflected off Sami Vatanen's back and got past Gibson for Watson's first career playoff goal.
It remained that way for nearly 30 minutes of play before Lindholm came through with his first of the playoffs, but the Ducks weren't able to find the next goal they desperately needed.
"We were starting to make plays out of our zone," Thompson said. "We were forechecking and playing our game. We were creating havoc in front of Rinne. Once we did that, it started giving us momentum."
The Ducks, who have dropped three Game 1s to Nashville in three playoff series between the two combatants, will try to even up the series Sunday evening back at Honda Center.
"We'll regroup," Carlyle said. "We'll turn the page on this one and get ourselves prepared for Sunday afternoon."