VANCOUVER – The frustration was stitched across Roberto Luongo’s face like a scar.
The Vancouver Canuck goaltender slowly took a sip from a water bottle, swirled the liquid around in his mouth, then swallowed hard.
“It’s not what we wanted,” Luongo said finally with a shake of his head. “I didn’t think we played a bad game, but the mistakes that we made cost us.”
The price the Canucks paid was a 4-3 loss to the Nashville Predators Saturday night. The win allowed the Predators to avoid elimination in the NHL Western Conference semifinal.
The loss means the Canucks will spend Mothers Day flying to Nashville for a Game 6 Monday. It’s a trip the Canucks had hoped to avoid.
Joel Ward scored twice in the third period for the Predators, and assisted on one of David Legwand’s two goals. Nashville trails 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, but returns home believing the task in front of them is not impossible.
“It was a good to win,” said Ward, who has four goals in three games against Vancouver. “To come out here and put some pressure on them a little bit, it’s definitely a good feeling.”
Nashville coach Barry Trotz said his team refused to quit.
“We bent a few times but didn’t break,” said Trotz, who has taken the Predators to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in the team’s 13-year history.
“When it was on the line our guys dug in and made it happen.”
Ward’s goals came in a span 4:31 in the third, silencing a sellout crowd of 18,860 at Rogers Arena.
He broke a 2-2 tie with just 74 seconds gone in the period, taking a cross-ice pass from Mike Fisher and one-timing a blistering shot past Luongo’s stick side. His second came when he pounced on a turnover in the Vancouver zone and snapped a shot over Luongo’s glove.
Ward’s seven goals and 12 points is a Nashville playoff record.
For the Canucks, the loss was like being forced to watch a bad movie again. It’s the fourth time in the playoffs Vancouver has failed to eliminate a team when given the chance.
The Canucks flirted with disaster in the opening round. After taking a 3-0 lead against the Chicago Blackhawks, they needed a goal in overtime of Game 7 to finally eliminate the defending Stanley Cup champions.
“We’ve been in this place before,” said Canuck captain Henrik Sedin. “Tonight we battled hard.
“It wasn’t a case like against Chicago where we gave them two games. They had to battle hard tonight. We played two good games in Nashville. Now we have to go back and play another good one.”
Ryan Kesler scored twice for Vancouver. Raffi Torres had a goal and an assist. For Torres, it was his first playoff goal since being part of the Edmonton Oilers run to the Stanley Cup final in 2006.
A Game 7, if necessary, would be Wednesday in Vancouver.
The Canucks will play the next game without forward Mikael Samuelsson. He was hurt in the first period and won’t make the trip to Nashville.
Legwand gave the Predators a 1-0 lead with a short-handed goal with 3:42 gone in the first period. Ward set up the goal when he stole the puck from Samuelsson at the blue-line, then fed Legwand on a breakaway.
The Canucks battled back to take a 2-1 lead, only to have Legwand tie it again with just 51 seconds gone in the second on a strange goal. He flipped a puck from behind the Canuck net that hit defenceman Alex Edler and deflected past a surprised Luongo.
“That was probably one of the weirdest that has ever gotten scored on me,” said Luongo.
Luongo also had to look sharp late in the second period when Canuck defenceman Dan Hamhuis almost directed a puck into his own net.
Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said Nashville took advantage of the chances they had.
“It’s a game of mistakes,” said Vigneault. “We made two and they made us pay for it.
“Unfortunately we couldn’t capitalize or make them pay.”
The Canucks outshot Nashville 34-23, including 12-5 in the first period.
Daniel Sedin, the NHL regular season scoring champion, and brother Henrik, last year’s league MVP, were both kept off the scoresheet. The Swedish twins were a combined minus-seven on the night.
The Predators scored goals on their first shot in each period. Twice they scored before two minutes was gone.
“You lose momentum and they get it,” said Henrik Sedin. “They are good when they can play with the lead.”
Kesler again was a bright spot in an otherwise dark picture for the Canucks. He returned to score his second goal of the night after losing a tooth and needing stitches after being hit in the face by a puck.
Kesler has five goals in three games against Nashville. He’s been the most consistent Canuck during the playoffs.
The Canucks won their first two playoff games in Nashville. They know the Predators will play a tight, defensive game and try to force Vancouver into mistakes.,
“We have to be patient,” said Daniel Sedin. “We can’t start taking chances.”
Luongo believes the best team lost Saturday. He doesn’t want it to happen again.
“I don’t think they did anything special,” said Luongo. “Pretty much what ever they got we gave them.
“We made some mistakes and they scored. You move past it and move on. You can’t dwell on it.”
Notes: The Canucks have allowed three short-handed goals during the playoffs. …Rogers Arena is booked for a rock concert on Thursday and Stars on Ice Friday. …Canuck scratches were Keith Ballard, Jeff Tambellini, Victor Oreskovich and Andrew Alberts.