ANAHEIM, Calif. – The Nashville Predators have known nothing but heartbreak in their brief playoff history, and the Anaheim Ducks were only a few seconds away from adding to the pain as they nursed a lead in Game 5.
That’s when captain Shea Weber scored on a slap shot that suggested these Predators might be different—and early in overtime, Jerred Smithson put Nashville into uncharted post-season territory.
Smithson scored 1:57 into overtime, and the Predators moved to the brink of winning a playoff series for the first time, stunning the Ducks 4-3 on Friday night to take a 3-2 series lead.
Weber tied it on a long slap shot with 35.3 seconds left for the Predators, who had never won an overtime playoff game, never won a Game 5—never even won three games in a series—before their dramatic comeback.
“It’s an amazing feeling to be one step closer,” said Jordin Tootoo, whose second assist set up Smithson’s one-timer past Ray Emery. “The playoffs are all about momentum swings, and we’ve done well with that throughout the year.”
The Predators can close it out in Game 6 on Sunday in Nashville.
Defenceman Kevin Klein scored his first career playoff goal and Pekka Rinne made 23 saves for the Predators, who even managed to reverse their ugly fate in Game 5 against Chicago last season.
Most of the key veterans in the jubilant Nashville dressing room remembered giving up the Blackhawks’ tying goal with 13.6 seconds left in regulation before losing the game—and the series one game later.
“It’s a different feeling than Game 5 last year,” Predators coach Barry Trotz said. “Last year, in Game 5, it was a devastating thing that happened to us. … This year, it’s the polar opposite. I think we’re mature enough to know there’s a very good hockey team on the other side, and we’re going to have to be absolutely at our best in Nashville.”
Both teams scored two goals apiece in a thrilling third period, with Anaheim blowing two leads. Bobby Ryan scored a spectacular goal early in the third in his return from a two-game suspension, but Joel Ward tied it with 8:40 left in regulation.
After Jason Blake’s second goal put Anaheim back ahead with 5:44 left, the Predators pulled Rinne in the final minute. Mike Fisher won a faceoff before Weber wired a shot through a crowd in front for his third goal of the series.
“I remember how hard it was last year in Game 5, and everybody in here knows it,” Weber said. “That makes it even sweeter. I don’t even remember a lot of times we’ve come back this year. Usually we’re playing with a lead when we win. It’s a great feeling.”
With Honda Center still uneasy after the intermission, Smithson—a grinding forward who had just five goals in the regular season—scored on a quick shot after Tootoo’s pass from behind the net.
“My eyes lit up, and I was pumped up,” Smithson said. “I came flying around the corner and kind of took out my own (teammate), but it was exciting. We’ve showed a lot of heart. We still have work to do, but we’ve put ourselves in a good position.”
Emery made 33 saves for the Ducks, who must regroup after failing to hang onto their late leads. They also didn’t get much from their stars: NHL playoff scoring leader Corey Perry and captain Ryan Getzlaf were shut out, while Teemu Selanne failed to score a goal for the first time in the series.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Ryan said. “We gave up and blew a lead twice in the same period. We had outworked them the third period, as simple as that. We got some breaks and scored some goals. At that point, you’ve got to put a team away.”
Ryan returned to Anaheim’s lineup after sitting out the Ducks’ trip to Nashville for stomping on Jonathan Blum’s skate during Ryan’s two-goal performance in Game 2.
In the opening minute of the third period, Ryan scored perhaps the most beautiful goal of the post-season to date after picking off David Legwand’s pass at the blue line. Ryan’s first deke forced Legwand to drop his stick, and he completely ditched Legwand with a graceful second move before coolly backhanding the puck past Rinne.
“It’s useless now,” Ryan said. “I probably won’t even think about it again.”
The Predators abandoned their usual defensive caution, and Ward capitalized on a pinball rebound of his own wild shot off the glass behind Emery, scoring his third goal of the series.
Blake then put the Ducks ahead with a remarkable assist from Selanne. The 40-year-old superstar somehow threw the puck at Rinne while prone on the ice behind the Nashville net, and the rebound caromed straight to Blake, who beat Rinne with a perfectly placed shot.
“We haven’t played very well with the lead,” Selanne said. “That’s one area we’ve got to improve for sure, but we have a good team here. I believe the skill level (is high). There’s a lot of character and pride in this room, so it’s a new opportunity.”
Fourth-seeded Anaheim and fifth-seeded Nashville split two-game sets in both buildings to open an increasingly bad-tempered series featuring suspensions, questionable hits and diving accusations.
NOTES: Nashville played without 50-point scorer Martin Erat, who stayed home after exiting Game 4 with an upper-body injury from a hit by Anaheim’s Jarkko Ruutu. … Nashville LW Nick Spaling picked up his first career playoff point with an assist on the first-period goal by Klein, who had just two goals in 81 regular-season games. … RW J.P. Dumont replaced Erat in the Predators’ lineup, playing sparingly in his first game of the series.