Preds' refuse-to-lose OT victory in Game 5 sets stage for great Sunday
It was a game that featured perhaps the NHL's best OMG playoff goal since Mario Lemieux's dekeing, dazzling marker for Pittsburgh in the 1991 Stanley Cup Finals against the old Minnesota North Stars. It was a game that featured a freaky goal in which the guilty defensive player was more concerned with a piece of tape in front of him than the puck.
In the end, it was a game won on just another hardworking goal scored by another no-name Predator.
Jerred Smithson -- he's a Predators player, if this is the first time you've ever heard his name -- scored at 1:57 of overtime Friday night to give Nashville its first-ever Game 5 playoff victory in club history at Orange County's Honda Center.
Nashville -- or "Smashville" to the locals on Broadway -- can win its first playoff series with a Game 6 win against Anaheim at home on Sunday.
This game had it all: The brilliant, the good, the bad, the ugly.
Bobby Ryan's third-period goal for Anaheim is going to be shown 25 years from now in one of those syrupy NHL
Ryan, in case you haven't seen it a thousand times by now on various highlight shows, looked like an alpine skier traversing the stationary gates on his third-period goal that gave Anaheim a 2-1 lead. Unfortunately for him, Predators veteran David Legwand was the gate in the equation, with Ryan first intercepting his pass at center ice, then crisscrossing through Legwand twice before depositing the puck past a flummoxed Pekka Rinne.
The goal was so brilliant that if justice was poetic, the game would have ended at that moment. Unfortunately for Anaheim, there was still 19:20 left on the clock ... and an awful lot happened from there.
First, there was Joel Ward's tying goal with 8:40 left, after a cast-the-goat-horns-away assist from Legwand -- with Ryan trailing the play.
But then, it appeared Nashville's Jonathon Blum would forever be the city's Bill Buckner, when he took his eye off the game's primary object. With 5:44 left, Anaheim's Jason Blake scored the second of his two goals to give the Ducks a 3-2 lead, right after Blum became more concerned with the lost tape of a stick than the puck.
To explain: Some of the tape from a stick (likely from Anaheim's Teemu Selanne, though replays were never quite conclusive) came off in front of Blum, while Selanne was battling for a loose puck in the corner.
Blum actually looked down and shuffled the tape aside at the same time Selanne swept a pass/shot in front that Blake one-timed past Rinne.
That was the kind of devastation -- like the Ryan goal -- that seemingly would be too much for the short-handed Predators to overcome. But somehow, some way, they evened it back up.
With 36 seconds left in regulation, Nashville's über-talented defenseman Shea Weber put a wrist shot from the blue line to the top right corner past Ray Emery, stunning the orange-and-black Ducks faithful. Mike Fisher, who was acquired by Nashville from Ottawa for just this sort of playoff pressure, won the faceoff back to teammate Cody Franson, who dished it off to Weber.
Blum's gaffe -- and Legwand's previous embarrassment at the hands of Ryan -- left a feeling that something bad still might happen for the Predators in overtime. But Smithson, the beneficiary of a great centering pass from Jordin Tootoo from the corner after a failed Ducks clearout, negated all such negative thoughts for Preds fans.
Smithson, charging to the front of the net ahead of Sbisa, put it home; and now, Nashville goes home for the chance to earn the franchise's most storied win since Barry Trotz stood behind the bench for its inaugural season of 1998-99.