The easiest way for any road seed to win a playoff series is to split the opening two games, and consolidate the break with two home victories. The Nashville Predators accomplished the first part of that task last night, scoring a 2-1 victory in double overtime at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena in Game 2 of their western conference semifinal series.
The easiest way to win a playoff road game is probably to outshoot your opponent and stay out of the penalty box. Nashville was able to do both. The Preds scored the winner on their 46th shot on Roberto Luongo. Pekka Rinne, while spectacular, only had to make 32 saves in over 94 minutes of play last night. And outside of one minor tripping call to Jordin Tootoo, the Predators stayed out of the box. To make matters worse for Vancouver, they were able to muster exactly zero shots on goal on their lone power play of the game. It was in fact a Nashville power play that yielded Vancouver’s only goal, as Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows combined to pick Sergei Kostitsyn’s pocket just past his own blue line. Burrows came in from the right wing and backhanded a centering pass for Kesler, but the puck appeared to deflect in off of Predators’ defenseman Ryan Suter’s skate before it got to Kesler, and Burrows was credited with the goal. It was a careless play by Kostitsyn, a forward known more for his streaky shooting than taking care of the puck. Suter’s more touted blueline mate Shea Weber was the closest man to Burrows, and was unable to break up the pass.
But outside of that one hiccup, Suter and Weber turned in a beautiful performance. Each skated over 42 minutes in the game, and it was Suter who fired his own strange deflection in to tie the game with just over a minute left in regulation. The American defenseman found the puck in the corner behind Luongo’s right post, and fired it at the recently maligned goaltender in an attempt to get a frozen puck, which would stop the clock and allow Nashville to regroup. The puck split Luongo’s legs, however, and banked in off his left skate. Suter also collected an assist on the game winning goal scored by Matt Halischuk at 14:51 of the second overtime period.
Nashville outshot Vancouver in each of the three periods of regulation, but it was Preds goalie Rinne who was forced to make 18 saves in the overtime periods, and a few of them were straight robberies. One in particular stands out, when Rinne dove to his right and grabbed a Kevin Bieksa shot with the inside of his blocker. Bieksa one-timed from very close after a perfect slap pass from the right wing by 2010 league MVP Henrik Sedin.
Nashville played the perfect playoff road game, and now the series shifts to the Preds home arena, where Nashville knows it has an opportunity to set up the possible collection of trophies. The top-seeded Canucks, however, know they need to adopt the road team’s mentality of absolutely needing a split, which would reduce this series to a best-of-3. No Presidents’ Trophy winning team should fear having to win two of three games when two of those three are played at home. Therefore, the pressure in Game 3 shifts to the Predators, who will need to equal Game 2’s intensity and attention to detail in order to protect home ice and turn the heat way up on the Canucks going into Game 4. All in all, the quality of play in this series has been a little higher than any of the other three, but this is also the only series to have played two games yet. It will be interesting to see if either of today’s Game 2’s can match what the Predators and Canucks played to last night.
Detroit @ San Jose — 3 p.m. NBC — San Jose leads 1-0
Tampa Bay @ Washington — 7 p.m. Versus — Tampa Bay leads 1-0