The Nashville Predators are one win away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final.
Despite missing centers Ryan Johansen and Mike Fisher due to injuries and having to shuffle their lineup accordingly, the Predators got a third-period go-ahead goal from Pontus Aberg and then held on to defeat the Anaheim Ducks 3-1 in Game 5 on Saturday.
Nashville takes a 3-2 series lead.
Talk about a timely goal from Aberg, Nashville’s second-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. That’s his first career Stanley Cup playoff goal and just his second career goal in the NHL.
The biggest story of this series over the last day has been the injury to Johansen, the Predators’ leading point producer in these playoffs prior to Saturday, and how his absence is a huge blow to their Stanley Cup hopes.
Well, the Predators were able to respond with a huge win on the road.
“Well, I mean, that’s a factor, sure, that we’re without Ryan. I think there’s no question about that. With regard to our players’ heads, they’ve been in the right place, I think, through the entire playoffs and they remain in the right place,” said Predators coach Peter Laviolette prior to Game 5.
“We’ve got a job to do tonight. We wish Ryan was here with us, but he’s not. We’ve got to move forward. And there’s a lot of trust and belief inside of our room that we can be successful.”
Without Johansen, it was mentioned yesterday the need for other members of the Predators to step up and fill the void offensively.
Aberg did his part, converting on a rebound after Filip Forsberg was stopped on the initial shot. Colin Wilson also scored for Nashville. In the previous two playoffs, Wilson had been producing at just below a point per game pace. So far this year, he had only three points in 10 games, but he buried a power play goal in the second period to tie it a goal apiece.
That tying goal came just after Josh Manson was called for a cross check on Forsberg. Prior to that, officials missed a Forsberg high stick on Manson, who was bleeding as a result. More controversy later on, as Predators goalie Pekka Rinne appeared to play the puck outside of the trapezoid, however there was no call.
While the Predators received timely scoring, Rinne was spectacular making 32 saves.
The Ducks began this game without Rickard Rakell, who did not play because of a lower-body injury. The drama continued later on, as goalie John Gibson was replaced by Jonathan Bernier at the beginning of the second period.
The Ducks later announced that Gibson suffered a lower-body injury and was questionable to return.
Game 6 goes Monday in Nashville.