Nashville will carry a 1-0 series lead into Game Two for the first time since 2012, exactly the start the club wanted in a hostile environment away from home.
“You have to start somewhere,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy here tonight. I thought it was a pretty evenly matched game… The second period was really important to get the tying goal and push on from there. Guys went to the net hard in the third period and we were able to get one.”
Neal finished off the Nashville pressure on the opening shift of the game, when he collected the puck in the slot and wristed a shot through the wickets of Anaheim goaltender John Gibson for a 1-0 lead a mere 35 seconds into the contest. The goal, assisted by Ryan Johansen, was Neal’s 16th career postseason tally. After the Ducks rang one off the post minutes later, Ryan Getzlaf took advantage of a 5-on-3 power play and converted at the netmouth to even the score before the opening frame was out.
Ryan Kesler gave the Ducks their first lead of the series at 0:48 of the second period as he wristed a shot past a screened Pekka Rinne from the left circle. But then, Colin Wilson evened the score on a magnificent play when he directed a Ryan Ellis feed – with just one hand on his stick – into the back of the cage for his first of the playoffs.
“It was awesome,” Ellis said of the Wilson goal. “Willy was calling for it, so I knew he was driving the middle. I just threw a pass in there and he was flying, it was a great goal to grab the momentum back for us there and good to see Willy flying out there.”
In the third, Forsberg tried to feed Craig Smith at the midway mark, but the puck never got there, instead deflecting off of Anaheim defenseman Shea Theodore’s skate and over the line for a 3-2 Preds lead, a marker that proved to be the game winner. Rinne and the Preds withstood the final push from the Ducks to claim the victory in a tightly contested outing.
“It’s exactly what we expected,” Ellis said. “It’s going to be a hard fought series; we’re going to war every single night, and they played a solid game. A 3-2 game is playoff hockey, and they’re a great hockey team. We know we’re going to get their best next game and we’ll be bringing ours.”
“We’ll have our work cut out for us in Game Two,” Laviolette said. “The challenge will be to go back and look at things to see what we can do better, and I’m sure they’ll do the same thing. To get off to the right start is a good thing. There’s so much hockey left to be played.”
Whatever It Takes:
He didn’t put the puck in the net, but he assisted on one Nashville goal and then kept the puck out of his own cage at the other end of the ice.
Preds defenseman Ryan Ellis was noticeable throughout Game One for all the right reasons, and after feeding Colin Wilson’s second-period, one-handed tally, he found himself sprawled out on his own goal line and denying the Ducks a go-ahead goal of their own.
“It was a 3-on-2, I think me and [Mattias Ekholm] had been out there for a while, so we were pretty tired. Pekka made a great save, and at that point, to just get your body on the puck,” Ellis said. “Do whatever you can to keep it out and Pekka recovered well to make the save too.”
“I’m not sure at the time he went down that was the plan, but he found himself there and was able to put up a wall on the goal line and the puck stayed out,” Laviolette said of Ellis.
Ellis finished with 19:55 of ice time and one assist on the night and was one of the deciding factors in the final result. The Preds are well aware that there’s plenty of hockey left, however, starting with Game Two on Sunday.
“We enjoy it for 10 minutes or whatever, and then Game Two is next,” Ellis said. “They’re going to be playing hard; they know they have to win that game and we’re going to come out and try to give it our best too.”
Gif of the Game:
After falling in the blue paint to keep the puck from crossing the goal line, Ryan Ellis reaches up to block the view of the goal camera.
Filip Forsberg on his team’s play:
“Both teams we’re working hard, and I think it was a pretty physical game. We got a good start with [James Neal’s] big goal, and it was a physical first period. It kept going the whole game and we were playing solid defensively; that was the biggest thing.”
Neal’s goal at 0:35 of the first period was the second-fastest postseason goal from the start of the game in Predators franchise history. Adam Hall holds the record with a goal at 0:16 of the first period on April 7, 2004, at Detroit.
Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg each now have seven points in seven career playoff games.
Game Two gets underway on Sunday night at 9:30 p.m. (CT) in Anaheim before the series shifts back to Nashville for Games Three and Four, beginning on Tuesday.
The newly expanded infographic features more stats, a quote of the game and new playoff logos.
Infographic: Preds Steal Game One