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Canucks blank Predators 1-0 in series opener

by Dan Rosen
VANCOUVER, B.C. -- The Canucks didn't need the same intensity, emotion and tension that made for a mammoth Game 7 just 48 hours earlier. All they needed Thursday night was one goal.

Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne did all he could to steal a road win for the Predators by stopping 29 of 30 shots, but his teammates didn't give him any help. Chris Higgins scored in the second period and Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo made 20 saves for a 1-0 victory and a one-game lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference Semifinal series. Game 2 is back at Rogers Arena on Saturday.

"Obviously Game 7 is not the same as a Game 1, but it's still the playoffs and you want to win the first one and set a good tempo for the rest of the series," Luongo said after his second shutout of this postseason. "No doubt the pressure level is not the same -- but at the same time, every game is so important, as we discussed prior to the series."

Since Canucks don't have the same history with the Predators as they do with the Chicago Blackhawks it was no surprise that the buzz inside Rogers Arena was toned down. However, the Canucks still had Nashville backtracking for the first 50 minutes and if it weren't for an all-world performance from Rinne the game could have been out of hand early.

The Canucks held a 26-11 advantage in shots on goal and a 33-17 edge at the faceoff dot through two periods. It wasn't until halfway through the third that the Predators started buzzing, looking for the tying goal that never came.

The final shot total had Vancouver ahead by a 30-20 margin.

"I think we had a lot more chances than a one-goal performance," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "I'm really pleased at how we came out. We played some real emotional hockey lately, and I thought we came out with a lot of jump. We were assertive on the puck. We were assertive at getting pucks at their net. We just met a goaltender who was real sharp."

The feeling was so different in the Predators' dressing room following the franchise's first game in the second round.

Nashville coach Barry Trotz was steaming mad at the way his forwards performed for 40 minutes. He gave Rinne credit for his great night and said the Predators' six defensemen were "actually pretty good," but he didn't have an answer for why his forwards got outworked until they had to push for the equalizer.

"I thought we'd be ready. I thought we had a pretty good idea of what was going to come at us, but we need everybody," Trotz said. "We win and lose as a group of 20 every night, and we had way too many passengers. Especially at this high level of competition in the second round, you can't play the way we did. We had a couple of games in the playoffs where we were on the other side and won all the 50-50 pucks. Tonight we didn't win any of those, especially up front."

Luongo didn't have much action until late in the game. In fact, when Higgins scored 12:14 into the second period, the shots were 24-8 in favor of the Canucks. However, he did have to make a big-time stop with just under 15 minutes remaining in the third period. Mike Fisher came in for a shorthanded breakaway, but Luongo made a chest save to preserve the 1-0 lead.

"He was coming down, but two guys were on his back," Luongo said. "I kind of had a feeling he was going to shoot, so I just stepped up on him at the last second and pushed out toward his stick, tried to take away as much net as possible."

Vancouver had to kill off five penalties, including an odd clipping call on Keith Ballard late in the second period and a tripping minor given to Ballard with 5:22 remaining in the third period. The Predators managed only four shots on goal in 9:16 of power-play time.

The Canucks were also 0-for-5 on the power play, but they had 13 shots on goal.

"I think our whole game is an area of concern right now," Predators captain Shea Weber said. "That was not Predators-style hockey and we need to change things in a hurry."

Weber had a chance to tie the game late in the third period, but he misfired on a wide-open net, shooting just a tad too high.

"If we get it, tie it up, it probably puts us in a position to have a chance to steal the game," Trotz said. "But, let's be honest, we didn't deserve to win this hockey game."

Just as he did in Game 1 against Chicago, Higgins scored Vancouver's first goal of the series. He roofed a shot over the Rinne, who was on his back with his pads up in the air. Maxim Lapierre darted toward the net, but fed the pass back to Higgins, who from the left circle snapped a high shot that hit off the inside white bar at the back of the net.

The goal horn blew and the spotlights came on, but the officials still had to go to review to confirm that the puck went in.

"Juice (Kevin Bieksa) made a nice play on the blue line, made a nice pass to Max and we kind of had all day," Higgins said. "I slowed up for him, gave him a target and it managed to get in there."

Getting Rinne to sprawl around in his crease and throw his pads up in the air was the only way the Canucks were going to beat the Vezina Trophy finalist Thursday night.

"Without a doubt he was their best player on the ice," Vigneault said.

It was hard to tell which player was Vancouver's best Thursday, but that was a good thing for the Canucks – they had no passengers and just enough emotion.

"They gave us what we expected," Bieksa said. "They are a team that works hard one-on-one and they win most of their battles. We were prepared for that tonight and we won most of the battles."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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