NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Vancouver Canucks have had plenty of practice this post-season when given the chance to eliminate an opponent. They finally found a way to make it look easy.
Daniel Sedin and Mason Raymond scored first-period goals, and Roberto Luongo made 23 saves as the Canucks beat the Nashville Predators 2-1 in Game 6 to advance to the Western Conference finals on Monday night.
“Relief,” Sedin’s twin brother Henrik said of his emotions. “It was one of those series where they get on a roll and they win this game, and all of a sudden there is a seventh game. That’s the playoffs. There were a lot of ups and downs, so we are happy.”
The Canucks, who had the NHL’s best record this regular season, reached the conference finals for the first time since 1994 and will face the winner of the series between the San Jose Sharks and Detroit Red Wings. San Jose leads that series 3-2, with Game 6 to be played in Detroit on Tuesday night.
“We have bigger things in mind,” said Vancouver forward Ryan Kesler, who had two assists to add to his outstanding series against the Predators. “We’re not just going to be satisfied making it to the conference finals.”
Vancouver is 2-4 this year with the opportunity to advance on the line, and 6-1 in its other playoff games. The Canucks blew a 3-0 series lead against defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago in the first round before finally eliminating the Blackhawks in overtime of Game 7.
That gave the Canucks the chance to face Nashville, which reached the second round for the first time in team history.
They made themselves comfortable on Nashville’s ice, winning all three games there in the series. Vancouver was just 1-2 at home in the series.
Raymond gave Vancouver the lead 7:45 into the game and Sedin made it 2-0 just 1:43 later. Luongo did the rest for the Canucks, who were outshot 24-19. The Canucks recorded only nine total shots in the first two periods.
David Legwand’s goal 3:31 into the second period cut Vancouver’s lead to 2-1. The goal—Legwand’s sixth of the post-season—stood up to a video review, but the Predators couldn’t avoid elimination again and force a Game 7.
“The first two periods I thought we played as well as we’ve played in the playoffs,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “The first period was a little disturbing because—according to our sources and what we track—we were out-chancing them 11 to two and we were losing 2-0. That’s a hard pill to swallow.”
After grabbing the early lead, the Canucks put the game away with defence. Nashville had 11 shots in the first period, but only 13 over the final 40 minutes. The Predators also failed to take advantage of four first-period penalty plays.
Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said his team’s early penalty kills were huge.
“You start off and take four penalties in the first, two right off the bat,” he said. “Penalty kill is having players committed and great goaltending. Luongo made a couple of huge saves right off the bat that permitted us to get a goal five-on-five and then a power-play goal.”
The Canucks got some help with their offence as Predators defenceman Ryan Suter turned over the puck to Kesler right next to the net. Kesler passed to Raymond, who backhanded a shot past goalie Pekka Rinne, who finished with 17 saves.
Kesler finished with five goals and six assists in the series.
“Kes really elevated his game in this series,” Vancouver defenceman Kevin Bieksa said. “I think he did it with, more so than skill, with will and determination. He wanted it as much as much as anyone and he showed it.”
Nashville coach Barry Trotz said he had a tough time finding a matchup for the scrappy Vancouver forward.
“He was a force the whole series,” Trotz said. “He had one of those series that was absolutely remarkable. If he doesn’t play that way we’re probably going to Game 7.”
Daniel Sedin doubled the lead while Nashville forward Jordin Tootoo served an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for diving, after he was hit by Alex Edler. Sedin connected just 36 seconds into the power play.
Martin Erat had one of Nashville’s best looks at another goal on a breakaway after coming off the bench, but Jeff Tambellini caught up with him and knocked him down just before he was able to take a clean shot.
The Predators had gotten a little taste of elimination pressure during the regular season. Nashville was 11th in the West on March 10, but moved up to the fifth seed with a 14-4-3 finish to the regular season.
The Predators, who won their first playoff series by beating the Anaheim Ducks in the first round, had never won a playoff game in which they faced elimination until their 4-3 victory in Game 5 against Vancouver on Saturday night.
“It’s always tough to lose but the way we went down I don’t think we could have given more,” Rinne said. “We gave everything we had. We did everything we could. I think at the end of the day we can be proud of ourselves. It’s not the result we wanted, but it’s a good team we played against.”
NOTES: Canucks F Mikael Samuelsson sat out after sustaining an undisclosed lower body injury in Game 5. … Nashville D Shea Weber had five of the Predators’ 11 shots in the first period. … Nashville F Joel Ward scored his ninth point of the series when he assisted on Legwand’s goal. … The announced attendance was a sellout crowd of 17,113. … The Canucks reached the Stanley Cup finals in 1994 and lost to the New York Rangers in Game 7.