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Predators rally to beat Ducks 4-3 in OT

by Curtis Zupke
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Nashville Predators have always pegged their postseason forays on defense and depth.

No offensive superstars dot their roster. Marquee names? Their biggest is their goalie, Pekka Rinne.

Under that premise it was entirely appropriate that the biggest goal in franchise history was scored by third-line grinder Jerred Smithson, who banged in Jordin Tootoo's pass 1:57 into overtime Friday to give Nashville a 4-3 victory against Anaheim at Honda Center.

The Predators took a 3-2 series lead in the Western Conference Quarterfinals and can win playoff series for the first time in franchise history by beating the Ducks at home on Sunday evening.

"You talk about a Predator type of player," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said of Smithson. "He comes to work every game and he gives you those intangible type of minutes. I thought it was fitting he scored the goal."

Nashville snapped a 0-5 record in Game 5s and won three games in a series for the first time ever. That includes last year's Game 5 against Chicago, in which the Predators blew a 4-3 lead with 13.6 seconds to go and fell in overtime before dropping the series in six games.

None of the Predators seemed interested in looking back on history after Smithson's winner, perhaps because of an emotionally draining third period that saw the teams exchange goals twice in epic swings of energy.

Nashville captain Shea Weber forced overtime with 35.3 seconds remaining in regulation when his wrist shot from the left point sailed through traffic and caught the far corner past Ray Emery. Mike Fisher started the plat by winning a faceoff with goalie Pekka Rinne on the bench.

"It just found a way in," Weber said. "Sometimes it doesn't have to be hard. Just get traffic and it goes in."

The goal gave the Predators all the good vibes they needed going into the extra session.

"We've got a lot of heart in this locker room and a lot of belief," Smithson said. "It was a great faceoff win by Fish, and Webbs getting the shot off quick and finding a way to tie it up was a huge momentum boost. In overtime, my linemates did all the work there."

Smithson beat Nick Bonino to the net and finished off Tootoo's pass to stun the Honda Center crowd.

Smithson entered Friday with one goal in 24 previous playoff games. His last postseason overtime goal?

"Minor hockey?" he said.  "It's been a long time. Like I said I don't get too many opportunities but it definitely something that feels pretty good.

"It hasn't really sunk in yet. Anyway I can contribute. I don't score a lot of goals but I take pride in the faceoff circle and try help out the team in other ways. But to contribute offensively definitely feels good."

Anaheim had taken a 3-2 lead with 5:44 left in regulation when Jason Blake scored his second goal of the game on a terrific play by the Ducks' second line. Teemu Selanne, while lying on his stomach behind the goal line, hooked the puck off Rinne and into the slot, where Blake rifled it over the goaltender's right shoulder.

Nashville's Joel Ward tied it at 2 at 11:20 of the third with a slap shot off his own rebound to mute the buzz from what might be the best goal of the playoffs so far.
Bobby Ryan put Anaheim ahead 40 seconds into the final period with perhaps the best goal scored in any series thus far. Ryan stole the puck in the Ducks' zone, deked his way left and right around David Legwand, who lost his stick in the process, evaded Weber and deked Rinne before beating him with a backhander for a 2-1 lead.

But Rinne, nominated for the Vezina Trophy earlier Friday and coming off a disappointing Game 4, flashed his credentials for most of the night. In the second period alone he made a terrific glove save on Corey Perry on the doorstop, stopped Bonino and thwarted Ryan from the slot.

Nashville dominated most of the first two periods, but the Ducks shook their home crowd alive late in the second period with their seventh power play goal of the series, tying the game at 1-1. Blake got his blade on a puck at Rinne's feet and poked it across the goal line with 6:21 remaining in the second.

Blake entered Friday with three goals in 28 previous career playoff games and would have been the unlikely hero had the Ducks been able to close out the game.

"We had a couple of mental breakdowns, and they cost us big," captain Ryan Getzlaf said. "We were 30 seconds away from being in control of this thing. Now we're fighting for our lives. We are going into a hostile building and are going to have to go in there and play the same way we did in Game 4."
Coach Randy Carlyle had a bigger perspective on the night.
"I don't think our hockey club played to the level that we're capable of tonight," Carlyle said. "That's the most disturbing part for me because we didn't play and we didn't skate with the necessary determination until parts of the game and then we got away from it (our template)."

Nashville played without top line winger Martin Erat, who has an upper body injury. Rookie Matt Halischuk filled in for him on the second line.
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