Canuck fans know that Ryan Kesler is a good player. This year, he took a huge step with 41 goals. That was baby steps compared to the huge impact that Number Seventeen in the playoffs. It is hard to believe that after taking playing Toews to a standstill in the 1st round, he had yet another level tonight.
That being said, the Nashville Predators deserve nothing but respect. In the past, I myself was angered by some questionable play by a couple guys. But no one can doubt their ability to work hard. If they keep the team together, and somehow get a scorer or two, this team is going to be scary.
The Suter and Weber duo played the Sedins to a standstill this series. It was an interesting conundrum for Barry Trotz. If he kept them out versus the Twins ( which he did for the majority of the series ), the next pairing ( usually Blum and Klein, though Obrien and Franson were out there vs 17 as well ) was in tough against the series’ dominant player.
Consider that Kesler was in on 11 of the 14 goals the Canuck’s scored this series. He was so much more than that though. Winning huge faceoffs. Killing penalties like a demon. If there is anyone in the NHL playing better right now, I have not seen it.
The visitors came out hard in the first period. They knew they needed to do that tonight especially, as one of the little talked about factors of “Southern Hockey” raised it’s ugly head. The ice was atrocious. Part of that is it was approaching 30 degrees centigrade outside. Another factor is that the Bridgestone Arena does not have double doors, so all the outside heat comes in with the fans. The Nashville organization did their best, with eight huge industrial dehumidifiers. You can’t fight science though. heat and ice don’t mix. The puck was bouncing like crazy most of the night.
The ice conditions did not have anything to do with the first power play of tbe evening, though Henrik was unlucky that his stick got caught up in Klein’s visor and face. He was not even looking that way. It was totally unintentional, but the Predators had a huge early chance.
Shots from Kostitsyn, Weber and Legwand tested the Canucks goaltender, but Luongo looked good early. The Nucks finished off the first kill. They tried to push back right after, but another penalty would blunt that when Kesler broke hard to the net against Weber. It looked like the defender pushed him into Rinne, and Weber certainly took liberties after, rag dolling Kesler by his collar, before Bieksa came to his aid.
The officials decided Kesler did not hold up enough going to the net, and suddenly there was a second straight power play for the home team. Their fans were jumping, and the Preds tried, but their special teams were just not special in this series. Franson got a shot that was hard and screened, but it was denied by Luongo. The rest was solid penalty killing, and the Canucks had escaped the early penalty trouble unscathed.
Ryan Kesler’s first amazing play would give the Nucks the all important opening goal. Check out who he beats here to set up Mason Raymond for a pretty goal, his first of the playoffs. Kesler just wanted the puck more, and I think purposely put it in Suter’s feet.
It looked like the Canucks were about to go on the kill yet again just 8:52 in, when Jordin Tootoo went down on a check by Edler. Stephen Walkom might have had a chat with the supervisor, or perhaps he saw the attempted dive by Legwand last game. Nonetheless, he made the brave call of ( rightly, in my estimation, Tootoo went down pretty easy ) diving on him, and the Canucks had their first power play.
The #1 seed got there by having the best power play in the league. A big part of that was the Sedins. They have been a bit maligned in this series ( I think a lot of that is all due credit to the duo of Suter and Weber, maybe the best in the NHL ). But look at this good work by them for the 2-0 goal.
A goal for Daniel Sedin. The haters will probably poopoo it for being on the power play, but it was a good play, and a great goal, just for getting the piano off their backs a little.
The Predators went right back on the power play, this time on a pretty dumb cross check by Edler on Legwand. This one would be cut short when Hanhuis beat Erat in the corner, and the Predator forward tripped him to make it four on four.
The team actually played about five minutes of five on five play, when Higgins took a slashing call on Tootoo. Back to the penalty kill. Back to superlative work by the defensemen and forwards. Fisher had a shot, but apart from that, there was no danger, really.
The second period might have been the very best of the playoffs for the Predators. They were just the better team, getting to pucks, hitting, even winning faceoffs. Kesler’s line aside, most the others spent entire shifts in the offensive zone. The ice was just bad by this time, and the bouncing puck made it tough for both teams, but the ice had nothing to do with the home team getting on the score board. Once again, it was another “lucky bounce”. ( Credit Joel Ward for a strong forecheck to start the play. He was one of the Nashville team’s best players all series ) This one was another behind the net shot, again from Legwand, and it somehow got through. Luongo laid down, and almost got it, but after a lengthy review, the score was cut to one.
Ryan Kesler went into beast mode to draw a penalty on Martin Erat. Henrik had a couple good shots, but the Preds killed it off. The Predators were carrying play though five on five. The Canucks defensive play was doing enough though, keeping things to the outside. On one of the few forays by the Canucks, Henrik tried to pass the puck to Tambellini coming off the bench. It missed, and it looked like one of the better skaters for the home team was going in on a breakaway.
But just check out this play from Jeff Tambellini. He played less than five minutes this game, and maybe had one of the most impactful defensive plays of the whole thing. Wow.
Even when Raffi Torres took a tough penalty ( I felt for him on the call, it was tough, looked like Halischuk more or less tripped over his stick just standing there. )But he did turn over the puck at the time too. Regardless, he was stapled to the bench in the third, when the Canucks went to three lines to protect the lead, and Glass took his spot. Sometimes bad penalties cost, but the visitors, and especially Luongo, stood in and prevented Suter and Wilson from capitalizing on their chances.
You knew that the Canucks were a little angry after that period. They were outshot 7 to 2. But the Preds could not take advantage. That would cost them. The third period was an example of the better team playing better. Just as the Preds dominated the second, the Canucks were clearly better in the third. When they were off the rush, they created chances. But when they could not, it was one man in, and defend, defend, defend. They were fantastic at it.
The clock kept running as the visitors kept defending and dumping it out. They were not just trapping though. Rather, they were playing smart. Make the pressure work for you, but don’t get caught on the counter. It helped that the Sedins were excellent in the third, more on the defensive side, surprisingly. They had a few shifts in the offensive zone, and a couple chances, but they defended like champs.
A shot by Tootoo with a little over three minutes left…and a last second shot from Weber were the most dangerous. The team of hard workers could not hard work the puck into the net. Series over.
A fantastic performance by the Preds. I was so impressed by the city and the fans. They’ll be back. But, in the end, this was all that was left.
The Canucks should have won, based on who played better in the series. They outplayed the Preds in all but Game 2. But the Nashville team showed that heart and will are not to be underestimated.
But as Jim Hughson notes in the last video, “what a series” for Ryan Kesler. He was the difference in a series of skill versus will. Not as high flying as the Hawks series, but just as intense.