Sun, May 14, 2017 - Page 11 News List

Predators take lead with overtime win

HEAVY HITTERS:Well-rested Nashville capitalized on their fresh feet to defeat Anaheim, who had to grind through seven games to advance in an earlier series

AP, ANAHEIM, California

The Anaheim Ducks’ Antoine Vermette, left, tries to deflect the puck past the Nashville Predators’ Pekka Rinne in the third period of Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference finals series at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, on Friday.

Photo: AFP

A few moments after James Neal crumpled Anaheim’s Brandon Montour with a vicious check on Friday night, the Nashville forward took a pass from P.K. Subban and ripped a shot past three Ducks for the winning overtime goal.

Even in uncharted territory for this franchise, the Predators are still rolling through the Stanley Cup playoffs with their distinct combination of smash and flash.

Neal scored 9 minutes, 24 seconds into overtime and Pekka Rinne made 27 saves as the Predators began their first appearance in the NHL Western Conference finals series with a 3-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks.

Filip Forsberg and Austin Watson scored in regulation for the Predators, who improved to 9-2 in this NHL post-season. They also won their third straight series opener on the road, continuing their month-long run of relentless post-season play.

“It shows a lot of character,” Rinne said. “All night, we had a lot of chances and we didn’t give them a lot... I thought that we created a lot, and eventually we were going to get one by him. I thought [Ducks goalie John] Gibson played a strong game tonight, but guys stuck with it. We’ve been doing that the whole playoffs. It’s a great sign for a team.”

After finishing off St Louis in the second round last weekend and resting while the Ducks labored through seven games against Edmonton, Nashville capitalized on their fresh legs to win a predictably physical game between two hard-hitting powers.

Nashville got off to a strong start and followed it up with a gritty overtime effort after Hampus Lindholm’s first playoff goal in two years tied it for the Ducks in the third period.

Neal put a long shot past a sprawled Gibson after a prolonged threat by the Predators that left Anaheim’s defense in disarray. The goal was the veteran forward’s third in four games.

“I don’t know if it hit the goalie or the player that was laying in front still, but it was a good feeling to see it go in,” Neal said.

Jakob Silfverberg scored on the Ducks’ first shot, while Gibson stopped 43 shots in a stellar performance. Just two days after finishing off the Oilers in the second round, Anaheim struggled to keep up at times in their second conference finals appearance in three years.

“No guy will use that as an excuse,” said center Nate Thompson, who won the face-off that led to Lindholm’s tying goal. “They came out and took it to us. We just need to get back to playing our game.”

Although this conference finals series matches two Sun Belt clubs 3,200km apart, they have a feisty history. Anaheim and Nashville are meeting in the post-season for the third time, including the past two seasons.

Nashville twice won Game 1 and went on to claim the previous two series with major help from Rinne, who has usually been at his inimitable best when facing the Ducks’ scorers.

Rinne picked up right where he left off last season when Nashville eliminated Anaheim from the first round in seven games, but Gibson was similarly outstanding.

“We knew they were going to come hard,” Gibson said. “It was their first game in a while. We weren’t our best, but we lost in overtime. If you look at the first period, they really came on us with a lot of pressure. We haven’t played a team like that in a while. We got better as the game went on.”

The Ducks got just one shot on goal in the first 13 minutes of Game 1, but Silfverberg put it into Rinne’s far top corner for his eighth goal in 12 games this spring, matching his goal total in 48 games over his previous six trips to the post-season.

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