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Canucks beat Predators 4-2, lead series 3-1

by John Manasso /
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Ryan Kesler said he knows how the Sedin twins feel.

For the first nine-plus games of the Vancouver Canucks' run though the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kesler failed to score a goal after scoring 41 in the regular season. In a hockey-mad market like Vancouver, he took more than a little heat.

But in the first round, Kesler and the Canucks finally vanquished their nemesis, the Chicago Blackhawks who had eliminated Vancouver in the second round each of the past two seasons.

Now the Canucks stand one win away from the Western Conference Finals – and Kesler has carried them on his back in Games 3 and 4.

Kesler did it all for the Canucks in Game 4 against Nashville on Thursday – in the second period, he helped to kill a 5-on-3 for the Predators; then followed by drawing a power play and scoring the game-winning goal on the ensuing advantage.

It all spelled a 4-2 victory at Bridgestone Arena for the Canucks over the Predators, as Vancouver took a 3-1 lead in this Western Conference Semifinals.

The Canucks can advance by winning Game 5 on Saturday back home at Rogers Arena (8 p.m. ET; Versus, CBC, RDS).

Until breaking out with three goals in the past two games, Kesler had done almost nothing offensively – the same problem that has been plaguing the Sedins, who've struggled to score.

"Those two are playing well for us and I know exactly how I feel," said Kesler of 2011 scoring leader Daniel and 2010 Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner Henrik Sedin, the latter of whom scored his first goal in the playoffs on Thursday, an empty-netter.

"They're staying positive and they're definitely leading by example and pushing pucks to the net."

Kesler is not so much leading by example right now as he is leading by action. He scored a highlight reel goal at 7:28 of the third period, splitting Shane O'Brien and Norris Trophy finalist Shea Weber, then beat Predators goalie Pekka Rinne with a wrist shot over the blocker.

"He's getting some room," Predators coach Barry Trotz said of Kesler, who has three goals and three assists in the last two games. "He's winning more battles and he's finding the net for them. I think in the first series he didn't have anything going for him.

"Right now, he's their best player – bar none."

Said Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault: "It was a great breakout on the power play (started by Christian Ehrhoff up to Henrik Sedin). It was an amazing goal by a player whose will to win right now is very strong and he is competing hard."

The Canucks got the power play when Kesler drew a holding penalty on Preds' defenseman Ryan Suter, who uncharacteristically lost his temper, grabbed Kesler by the head and shoulders and threw him to the ice during the play. The two were teammates on the U.S. Olympic team in 2010.

Suter was clearly frustrated.

"He's no innocent guy out there," Suter said. "He gets his stick up on that one right before I got the penalty there, he hit Fish (Mike Fisher) in the face. He'll probably have to get stiches, but it's part of it, obviously, I shouldn't have done what I did."

In Game 3, Kesler drew a hooking call on Weber in overtime and then scored the game-winning goal on a power-play deflection.

Nashville had tied the Game 4 at 2-2 at 3:27 of the third period on hard-shooting defenseman Cody Franson's first goal of the playoffs. David Legwand won the puck along the left boards and sent a pass to Franson in the middle of the ice just inside the blue line. With several players in front of the net, Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo peered to his right, making him late going into his butterfly, and the puck went through his five-hole. The puck got stuck under the padding in the back of the net, and the officials needed a few seconds to verify the goal.

Kesler, a Selke Trophy finalist, showed off his defensive skills In the second period when he helped the Canucks preserve a 2-1 lead by killing off a 5-on-3 that lasted 47 seconds.

With Maxim Lapierre off for interference at 13:58 of the second, Aaron Rome slashed Martin Erat's stick, breaking it and putting Nashville up two men. However, the Predators only managed one shot during the two-man power play and another on the 5-on-4 advantage.

"It was a big turning point," Vigneault said. "They used their timeout. They were in striking distance and we got a couple big plays from our goaltender and we got a great job from Dan Hamhuis, Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler, who were out there for almost the full 5-on-3 doing the right things."

Vancouver went ahead 9:43 into the second period when defenseman Alex Edler teed up a shot from the high slot and beat Pekka Rinne through a screen.

For the first time in the series, the game went into first intermission with each team having scored a goal. Only nine goals total had been scored in the first 210 minutes plus of the first three games.

Ehrhoff scored a goal similar to Edler's at 15:04, beating Rinne through a screen. Rinne was upset after the goal, arguing that Burrows had interfered with him, but there was no call or review.

Trotz said he didn't think it was interference, nor did a few others.

"I don't know, I didn't see the replay, but (CBC analyst and former NHL goalie) Glenn Healy told me it wasn't interference so that's an ex-goalie so I think he probably has the right call," Burrows said.

Nashville answered on the power play with just 41.6 seconds left in the period. Playing his first game since April 24 because of an undisclosed injury, Canucks defenseman Sami Salo shot the puck over the glass, earning a delay of game call. Franson split two defenders and got a shot off against Roberto Luongo, who made the save and stopped Joel Ward's rebound try but couldn't stop Ward a second time.

The odds are stacked against the Predators, who head to Vancouver knowing they have to find a way to win in a series that has been them score all of six goals – no more than two in any game.

 History also is not on Nashville's side – the Predators are 0-5 all-time in elimination games.

Nonetheless, Trotz said he believes in his group.

"Because I've seen it," he said when asked why he thinks his team can win. "I could give you coach talk and say we're never out of it, but I've seen it all year. I've seen it when our backs are against the wall. I've seen it in the playoffs. As our coaching staff calls it, we've been on death's door a couple of times. In the Anaheim series we were there and found a way to come back and win. In Vancouver we were there (in Game 2). We find ways.

"We dug ourselves a hole, but we've been in a few holes this year."
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