By: Nick Lanciani
Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators forced a Game 7 with a 3-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night at Bridgestone Arena. Rinne stopped 26 shots on 27 shots faced for a .963 SV% en route to the win, while Frederik Andersen made 23 saves on 25 shots against for a .920 SV% in the Anaheim loss.
Entering Monday night, Nashville had a 0-5 record in all-time Game 6 situations where they were facing elimination. Craig Smith returned to the lineup for the Predators, but not without a price in the eyes of the hockey gods, as Cody Bass left the game after the first period and did not return for the night with an injury.
After a scoreless first period, in which the Predators and the Ducks swapped power play opportunities only three minutes into the game, Nashville was leading 8-7 in shots on goal. The Preds were also leading in hits (12-11), giveaways (3-1), takeaways (3-2) and blocked shots (5-2), while Anaheim led in faceoff wins (10-7) after twenty minutes of play.
Mattias Ekholm scored the game’s first goal at 8:10 of the second period to give Nashville a 1-0 lead. The goal was Ekholm’s 2nd of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs and was assisted by Calle Jarnkrok (1) and Ryan Ellis (2). Almost ten minutes later, James Neal put the Predators up by two with his 2nd goal of the series, assisted by Ryan Johansen (2) at 17:45 of the period.
Ekholm then served a minor penalty for holding Anaheim skater, Hampus Lindholm, at 19:17 of the 2nd. The Ducks forced their way into the front of the net during the ensuing power play opportunity and Ryan Kesler picked up a rebound before shoving it home for his 3rd goal of the postseason, thereby cutting Nashville’s lead in half on the man advantage. Kesler’s goal was assisted by Corey Perry (4) and Cam Fowler (2) at 19:46 of the 2nd period.
After forty minutes of play, the Predators led 2-1 on the scoreboard and 20-18 in shots on goal. Nashville also led in giveaways (3-2) and blocked shots (12-6), while the Ducks led in hits (23-20) and faceoff wins (19-17). Both teams had 4 takeaways after two frames and Anaheim was 1/2 on the power play, while Nashville was 0/1.
The third period saw a 9-6 shots on goal advantage in favor of Anaheim, but the Ducks last ditched effort was matched by the cool, calm and collected goaltending by Rinne.
With ten seconds left in regulation, Shea Weber fired the puck down the frozen river and into the empty net that had been vacated by Andersen with about 90 seconds to go in the period. Weber’s goal, his 2nd of the postseason, gave he Predators a 3-1 lead and was his 12th career playoff goal. As well, James Neal picked up an assist on the empty net goal.
Weber is now one goal shy of tying David Legwand’s franchise record of 13 career playoff goals.
Nashville finished the night leading in hits (30-25), giveaways (8-5) and blocked shots (21-11), while Anaheim finished the night leading in faceoff wins (28-26) and takeaways (5-4). With the win, the Predators tied the series at 3-3, thereby forcing a Game 7 on Wednesday night at 10:00 PM EST at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. It will be the first Game 7 in franchise history for the Predators and can be viewed on NBCSN in the United States and on Sportsnet and TVA Sports in Canada.
In rare NHL form, Round Two of the Stanley Cup Playoffs kicks off on Wednesday night before Round One will have even concluded, as the Tampa Bay Lightning square off with the New York Islanders at Amalie Arena.