As the taste of the fantastic feast that was the first round matchup fades, there were some that wondered how the Canucks would be able to get up for a matchup versus the Preds, who seem to exemplify the meaning of “grinding”, at least in hockey terms.
The players and management all talked of the “one game at a time mantra”, and how they were not going to experience a letdown. They did not. The Predators might have, but the Canucks had something to do with that tonight.
One of the more intriguing aspects of the lead up to this series was who was going to match up with who. Most of the night we got to see the Fisher led line versus the Kesler line, with Legwand’s line against the Sedins when Vigneault could, and the Spaling line when Trotz got his choice out. After tonight though, you get the feeling the Pred coach might change it up.
The game quickly got under way with a huge hit by Bieksa on Fisher in his own end. It was indicative of how the Canucks were going to carry the game to the visitors from Nashville.
The Sedins, regardless of who they played ( and Trotz did try the Fisher line versus them early, but went away from that ), were playing energized and entertaining hockey. Even when Samuelsson was assessed a barely touched the arm hooking call, it was the Canucks pressuring all over the ice. Blum got a shot to force a save, but the penalty kill made the power play look bad.
As the Sedins came out after a kill, as usual, Ballard made a nice play to send them away, and Hornqvist got his stick up trying to hit him a bit too earnestly, raking the face and giving the home team their first chance on the power play.
The puck went around the offensive zone like, forcing openings and great chances. It would be the first indication of the challenge that Pekka Rinne will be in this second round series. Henrik had 2 shots, Daniel 1, as did Edler. It looked every inch the #1 power play from the regular season.
The Canucks were flying, both the forwards and defensemen. Check out this rush by Ballard, forcing two of Rinne’s finest saves in the first period.
That pressure led to Tootoo taking a penalty on Daniel Sedin. The Canucks power play did the same as the first time, with Ehrhoff forcing three saves from Rinne through traffic. He was on his best, and they killed it off. Ehrhoff was deemed the hooker of Halischuk, as per the new NHL rules, and the Pred’s second power play came in the last minute. Good work by Kesler et al brought the 1st to a close. It was a dominant one for the Canucks, with a 16 to 5 edge in shots, and an astonishing 22 of 25 face offs won in the first period. That makes it tough for any opposing team, but especially a team built on puck possession like the Vancouver Canucks are.
The Preds had the power play to start the second, and they did work a chance for Weber to get his feared shot off on the power play. But Luongo got it with no rebound, and Hornqvist took what can only be called a stupid penalty in front, cross checking Hamhuis in the face and taking his team off the man advantage.
The 4 on 4 was uneventful, but the power play forced Rinne to work again, getting a piece of a Bieksa tip, and saving a Kesler shot. You could feel the tension start to grow in the arena a little bit, if only because the fans know this is exactly how the Preds have success, working hard and staying in games until they get a break.
Another penalty to Sullivan forced the penalty killers back to work, and Rinne again stoned the Sedins, adding in a nice save on Burrows for good measure. Oreskovich jumped on too soon a few minutes later, and it was the Predator’s turn at the special teams. Kesler and Burrows again were dominant on the penalty kill, and Joel Ward was the only one to get a shot on Luongo, who turned it aside.
The Canucks were clearly too much for the Predators 5 on 5 tonight, and were forcing the play again and again. Finally, on yet another rush, a nice play by Bieksa at the line on Fisher forced the defenseman to step up. Bieksa then made a slick pass to Lapierre, who used the open ice to feed Higgins, with this result.
It was well deserved, and put the Nashville team back on their heels. Even when the referees got involved with probably the worst interpretation of a clean hip check I have ever seen ( listen to the explanation from the commentators ),
the penalty killers were just too much for the Predators. The Canucks killed it off, and ran through the rest of the period with no further threats. It was now 26 to 11 for the Canucks in shots after two periods. Without Pekka Rinne, it is doubtful the home team would have had only one goal.
The opening of the third, the Preds brought more of the hard working game that has been their calling card. The Canucks were not being threatened too much, playing their own well honed defensive game. So when Hornqvist hauled down Kesler on the rush and took his third minor of the night, it looked like this could be the blow that would destroy their just found momentum.
It always seems that we do things the hard way in Vancouver though. Higgins and Bieksa collided at the blue line, and Fisher was sent in all alone on a short handed breakaway. Luongo stoned him, even when Fisher ran through him going for a rebound that was not there.
The power play had some pressure but could not convert. But the momentum from the save seemed to calm them down. The Preds pushed forward, but the Canucks pushed back as well. As the period wound down, it all looked well in hand. Keith Ballard was unlucky though, and had his stick get caught up in Kostitsyn’s feet, and with 5:22 left, the Canucks were going to be forced to kill a penalty.
They did well, but so did the Predators, bringing their best power play of the game, sensing the chance to steal a game they had no right to be in, by the run of play.
The visitors pressured well, and Mike Fisher made a wonderful feed in front to Weber, who had a hard angle to get a good shot off. Whether it was that forcing him to shoot high, or perhaps Luongo getting just a piece with his glove coming over, but the chance was denied.
Legwand would get a shot on net in the dying minutes, but the Canuck defenders did their job very well, and even with a goalie being pulled at the last, all the Preds could muster was a Suter shot that Henrik Sedin blocked and cleared, sealing the victory.
Afterwards, Trotz called his team embarrassing and said most of his forwards were “passengers” tonight. Perhaps. But it was more likely that the plaudits being sent Rinne’s way were the only thing making this one close to the end.
Its going to be a different series, and with the two Vezina nominees in it, probably a low scoring one. You have to think the Canucks will be breaking through if they continue with the effort they showed tonight.