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Canucks advance to conference finals with 2-1 win

by Dan Rosen /
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Vancouver Canucks had to borrow a page out of their opponent's playbook to advance into the Western Conference Finals for the first time in 17 years.

Onward they go.

The Canucks grabbed an early lead in Game 6 at Bridgestone Arena on Monday thanks to goals from Mason Raymond and Daniel Sedin within the first nine and a half minutes. After a sluggish second period, they went into a defensive mode to lock down a 2-1 series-clinching victory over Nashville, which is usually the team that clamps down with a slim lead in the final 20 minutes.

"I was a little bit nervous in the third but I thought that was our best period of the series," said Daniel Sedin, whose power-play goal 9:28 into the first period was the difference. "We didn't give them anything. That's how we need to play as a team and when we do that we're successful."

Raymond and Sedin scored less than two minutes apart to provide the scoring. Ryan Kesler had assists on both goals, giving the early Conn Smythe candidate a hand in 11 of Vancouver's 14 goals in the series.

Roberto Luongo let David Legwand's tough-angle shot from the right side go through his legs early in the second period, but he stopped everything else the Predators threw at him to make the early goals hold up.

Now Vancouver waits to find out if it'll be playing San Jose or Detroit in the Western Conference Finals. The Sharks lead the Red Wings 3-2 with Game 6 in Detroit on Tuesday.

The Canucks were 3-0-1 against the Sharks and 2-0-2 against the Wings in the regular season.

"I'll give you the same response I gave you after the first series," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "We're not in this to just win one round, and we're not in this to just win two rounds."

Vancouver won Game 6 in part because of its efficiency on special teams. The Canucks were a perfect 5-for-5 on the penalty kill and 1-for-3 on the power play. Nashville managed only seven shots on goal over 8:29 of power play time and finished the series just 1-for-21 on the power play.

The Predators failed on four power play chances in the first period, and cut one short when Martin Erat tripped Dan Hamhuis in the offensive zone with 8:06 to play.

"The first period was a little bit disturbing because according to our sources and what we track, we were out-chancing them 11-2 and we were losing 2-0," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "That's a hard pill to swallow."

The Predators outshot the Canucks 18-9 through two periods, but Vancouver went into full clamp down mode in the third and held Nashville to just six shots in the final 20 minutes. The Canucks had 10 shots.

"We took it to them rather than sitting back," Kesler said. "That was the theme going into the third. We didn't want to sit back and hope -- we wanted to take it to them, get shots on net, throw everything we had at them, empty the tanks. We did it and that was our best period of the series."

Nashville got within one goal 3:31 into the second period when Legwand put the puck through Luongo's legs from a tough angle near the goal line on the right side. Luongo fell backwards in an attempt to keep the puck from crossing the line, but official Steve Kozari called it a goal and video review confirmed that the puck did cross the line.

The Predators had two more glorious chances to tie the game in the second period. Mike Fisher fired high and wide on a one-timer off a 2-on-1 rush with Erat and later in the period Erat was too slow on a breakaway. He got caught by Jeff Tambellini.

Nashville couldn't generate much in the way of scoring chances in the third period.

"They were working harder and it's just tough that it's over now with all the hard work we put in," said Nashville forward Joel Ward, who finished the postseason with 12 points in 12 games. "We really wanted to continue playing. We were having a good time. We just wanted to keep competing."

Instead it's the Canucks moving on largely because Kesler was so dominant. He finished the series with 11 points, two game-winning goals, 24 shots, 12 takeaways, 16 hits and a 105-73 record on faceoffs. Kesler also had a huge impact on the Canucks' near perfect penalty kill.

"He just had one of those series that is absolutely remarkable for one player," Trotz said. "I thought -- as I said as I was going by him (in the handshake line) -- if he doesn't play that way, we're probably going to Game 7 and we might win the series. He played to a level that few people can reach."

Kesler's persistence on a hard forecheck helped set up Raymond for the first goal of the game 7:45 into the first period.

He dumped the puck behind Nashville defenseman Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, but he pressured hard on the forecheck and forced Suter to turn the puck back over to him near the goal line. Kesler backhanded the puck to the slot where Raymond collected it, deked and beat Rinne with his backhand.

Kesler then redirected Henrik Sedin's pass from the right corner to Daniel, whose shot from the left side of the slot beat Rinne at 9:28.

It was the first time Vancouver had a two-goal lead without the aide of an empty net goal all series.

"That was huge, especially against this team," Daniel Sedin said. "You need to get the lead and then you can sit back and wait for them to make mistakes. Otherwise it's going to be a tough game. It was a good effort by our team. We didn't play that well the first half of the game, but I thought we took over as the game went on."

Nashville grabbed the momentum in the second period and held the Canucks to only two shots on goal, both on their lone power play of the period. But, when it mattered most, the Canucks finally showed a killer instinct that had been lacking in these playoffs.

They played their own brand of Predator hockey in the third period, and now they get to wait for their next opponent.

"We came out and played our best period when we needed it the most," Henrik Sedin said. "This is a group that really sticks together and believes. It showed again tonight."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl

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