Going into Game 5, Ryan Kesler was the star and villain of this series. The Vancouver Canucks’ two-way center was outstanding again tonight, but he was forced to make room for a rival star. Nashville Predators forward Joel Ward stole the spotlight to help his team earn its first ever win while facing elimination.
Ward combined with David Legwand and Mike Fisher to absolutely dominate the should-be dominant Sedin line, helping Nashville stay alive with a 4-3 win.
Nashville 4, Vancouver 3; Canucks lead series 3-2
It makes sense that this game followed this series’ pattern of close games. It doesn’t make as much sense that possibly the best line from the regular season is getting torn apart by a group of little-known grinders, though.
The Predators are now 1-5 in franchise history when facing elimination, while the Canucks are 1-4 in elimination games in 2011.
An unexpectedly exciting first period
In a series full of drab opening frames, this game started off with a bang and rarely slowed down.
Things looked grim for Nashville when they took an early penalty, but Mikael Samuelsson* ended up making a boneheaded mistake. He turned the puck over to Ward, who sent a gorgeous pass to Legwand for a gorgeous shorthanded 1-0 tally. That man advantage wasn’t a total disaster for Vancouver, though, as Raffi Torres took advantage of a great takeaway and pass by Jannik Hansen to tie it up moments after the PP expired.
Kesler’s rise to stardom continued late in the first as he made a great play to beat Shea Weber and finish Mason Raymond’s one-timer setup.
A strange goal leads in to the Ward-Kesler duel
The Predators have scored quite a few weird goals from behind Roberto Luongo’s net, but Legwand’s tying goal might just be the strangest. Let’s just say it wasn’t a great night for Alex Edler. (Note: Highlights of Nashville goals can be found at the bottom of this post.)
The game remained 2-2 going into the third period, which put a huge exclamation point on Ward’s amazing playoff run. The pending free agent finished a beautiful one-timer pass from Fisher to make it 3-2. Ward then he pounced on a turnover to slam home the eventual game-winning goal.
Ward almost made it a three-goal lead when he out-skated Edler for a shorthanded goal attempt, but Luongo made the save to deny his natural hat trick attempt. Ward’s three-point night ties him for second place in the 2011 playoffs with 12 points. His seven goals is unexpected after he only scored 10 during the regular season.
Kesler continues to dominate, but couldn’t do it by himself tonight.
While Ward was the star of the night, Kesler is earning Mark Messier comparisons with his combination of grit and goal scoring prowess. He scored yet another goal with a little less than four minutes remaining in the game, but ultimately it wasn’t enough.
Kesler ended the game with two goals, a ridiculous 21-5 record on faceoffs, six hits and plenty of hatred from Nashville. Ward had two goals, one assist, four hits and a +3 rating in Game 5.
A quick outlook for both teams
Nashville gets an opportunity to earn a second round win at home after dropping Games 3 and 4 in their own barn. They just need to stick with it and take advantage of the nothing-to-lose energy they’ll likely take into Game 6. Their support players are coming through while Pekka Rinne remains a difference maker.
Luongo still doesn’t deserve the blame (most of those goals were unstoppable), but the Sedin twins deserve plenty of criticism for their flop tonight. Ward’s line absolutely devoured them in Game 5, leaving Daniel (-4 rating) and Henrik (-3) looking like the nobodies in this contest. The Canucks might not need them to be outright stars, but now they’re getting flat-out embarrassed.
The Canucks now must take another 12 hour flight to Nashville and play at least 60 more grinding minutes against the Predators. Even if they win in Game 6, this was a loss that could haunt them in the near future.
* – Versus reports that Samuelsson won’t travel with the Canucks to Nashville because of a lower-body injury.