The Nashville Predators and the Anaheim Ducks went into Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals tonight tied at two games apiece. After Saturday’s hard fought, physical battle, the Predators took a 3-2 series lead, heading back home to Nashville for Game 6 with a chance to eliminate the Ducks and advance to their first ever Stanley Cup Final. The final score of Saturday’s contest was 3-1 in favor of the Preds.
Nashville Predators Edge Anaheim Ducks, Take a 3-2 Series Lead
Battle of the Goaltenders Continues
The entire Nashville and Anaheim series thus far has been a story of excellent goaltending from Predators’ Pekka Rinne and Anaheim’s John Gibson. Saturday’s game was the same way, with both goalies off to a fast start. Throughout the first period, Rinne faced more pressure than Gibson, coming up big with stops in both five-on-five play and on the penalty kill. Gibson was also tested multiple times, and coughed up the puck two times while doing so. However, through the first period, the two remained perfect and the game was tied at zero.
At the beginning of the second period, Anaheim replaced Gibson with backup goalie Jonathan Bernier. Gibson suffered a lower-body injury midway through the first period, when sprawling for a puck, his knee and lower leg bent awkwardly. He was in notable discomfort, and this leads many to believe this was when the injury occurred. Gibson was listed as “questionable to return”, but never did.
With both goalies solid, Anaheim struck first when Chris Wagner buried a rebound off a shot from the slot. Nashville, however, quickly responded, in the dying minutes of the second period, when Colin Wilson swatted the puck in off his backhand on the power-play.
Pontus Aberg‘s First Playoff Goal Seals the Deal for Nashville
Nashville Predators left winger Pontus Aberg entered his ninth career Stanley Cup Playoff game Saturday night. Little did he know he would be a hero, his third period goal being the game winner for Nashville. The play leading up to the goal was quite perfect. Mattias Ekholm skated up through the neutral zone, chasing a puck into Anaheim’s zone, and took it along the boards where he then passed to teammate Filip Forsberg. Forsberg fired a shot on net, and the rebound fluttered out in front, where Aberg was fighting for control. Bernier sprawled out to recover the puck, but a falling Aberg outreached the downed goaltender and snuck it into the net.
Physicality Was the Name of the Game
Perhaps the biggest story of Game 5 was how physical both teams played. The series itself has been a gritty one, but Saturday night’s match-up proved to be the most physical yet. Both teams hit all over the ice: in front of the net, behind the net, in the neutral zone, and along the boards. Players from both teams went after one another in attempts to wear each other down. At the end of the game, the final hit count was 32 for Anaheim and 25 for Nashville.
Another big factor of Game 5 was the amount of shots blocked by both teams. The net front presence was strong on both sides, with all players trying to fight their way to the net-mouth. As a result, shots were blocked, players sacrificing the body. Anaheim lead the game with 18 blocked shots to Nashville’s 15. Josh Manson and Sami Vatanen both led the Ducks with four blocked shots apiece. P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons, and Austin Watson all tied for Nashville’s most with two blocks each.
The Nashville Predators now hold a three game to two series lead over the Ducks. The two teams meet again on Monday, May 22nd, in Nashville. The Predators will have a chance to close out the series. If Anaheim wins, the two teams will move on to a Game 7.