NASHVILLE, Tenn. – When David Legwand scored short-handed midway through the first period, it looked like it would be another long night for the Vancouver Canucks’ power play.
Ryan Kesler turned things around by breaking his own lengthy scoring drought.
Kesler scored twice with the man advantage, including the overtime winner, and the Canucks beat the Nashville Predators 3-2 Tuesday. The win gives the Canucks a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal.
It was a welcome turnaround for the Canucks’ power-play, which hadn’t scored since Game 4 of Vancouver’s seven-game quarter-final series with Chicago.
It was also a welcome reversal of fortunes for Kesler, who scored his first two goals of the playoffs after scoring 41 times in the regular season.
“It was good to get a couple and get the confidence back,” Kesler said. “I didn’t change my game at all tonight. I put the same game on the ice, but I finally got the results. I knew it was going to turn around, and it finally did.”
The turnaround didn’t happen right away. Vancouver’s first power play was a disaster.
Midway through the opening period, with Nashville’s Jerred Smithson in the penalty box serving a roughing penalty, Alexander Edler had the puck behind the Vancouver net. Legwand forced a turnover and started an impressive tic-tac-toe passing play that ended with Legwand scoring from the right side.
“They caught Alex there,” Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault said. “Legwand stepped in behind the net and sort of caught him not ready for the press. He got the puck back and they made a great play. You have to give them full marks on that play. It was a gutsy play on their part and they cashed in on it.”
The Canucks have allowed two short-handed goals this post-season.
Smithson was sent off again late in the first, this time for an accidental high stick to the mask of Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo. One minute into the second period, Kesler scored the team’s first power-play goal of the series.
From behind the Nashville goal, and with Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne out pursuing the puck, defenceman Christian Ehrhoff made a quick pass to Kesler on the left goalpost for an easy tap-in.
If Kesler’s first goal was a momentum changer in the game, his second may have turned the tide of the series.
At 10:05 of overtime with possession of the puck inside the Nashville blue line, Kesler drew a hooking penalty on Predators captain and Norris Trophy candidate Shea Weber. Kesler finished the Predators off 40 seconds later, deflecting a Mikael Samuelsson shot through traffic by Rinne.
Samuelsson was demoted from the team’s top line and placed on the fourth unit for Game 3, but was on the ice for 4:25 of Vancouver’s nearly six minutes of power play time in the game.
“I like to play on the power play obviously,” Samuelsson said. “I do whatever is best for the team. If the coach thinks it is the best way, I play there.”