As dramatic as the Predators made this series by winning Game 5 in Vancouver, the encore performance proved rather anti-climactic. Other than the implication of the outcome, this had all the sizzle of two road-weary teams in February. In the end, the Canucks moved onto the Western Conference finals ... and the Preds go home after their most successful playoff run in franchise history.
On the positive side, the Canucks were able to put the Game 5 disappointment behind them and earn a third victory in Nashville. Led once again by Ryan Kesler, the Canucks set the tone early with gritty, scrappy play. It resulted in two first period goals -- both assisted by Kesler. Of similar importance, Kesler bumped into Predators'goalie Pekka Rinne -- accidently on purpose -- taking a penalty in the process but sending a not-too-subtle message: We're here to beat you at your own game.
That Predators' game is all about patience and capitalizing on precious few opportunities. So, up 2-0, the Canucks just sat back. Even after David Legwand cut the lead in half early in the second period by banking a shot off netminder Roberto Luongo's leg from below the goal line, the Canucks never wavered. They refused to give the Predators even one juicy turnover to prey on; whereas the Preds feasted on three giveaways in Game 5, the Canucks simply dogged the puck all over the ice, seemingly content to check their way to the finish line.
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault wisely gambled the Predators wouldn't be able to generate offense on their own. He was right and as a result, the Canucks only bothered to fire two shots on goaltender Rinne in the second period. They pestered the Preds a bit more up ice in the third -- but that wasn't the focus. Clearly, the emphasis was on not giving the Preds anything. As a result, this was a staring contest that featured the Predators squinting at the goal in the distance and the Canucks unflinchingly refusing to blink.
Credit the coaches for the game plan and the players for the execution. Congratulate the Canucks on moving onto the conference finals for the third time in franchise history. And while the Predators held true to their identity of being a tough foe on a consistent basis, their offensive shortcomings became painfully obvious. They exhibited will and want. They received very good goaltending and have solid defensive structure and two stars on the blue line in Ryan Suter and Shea Weber.
What they don't have is a way to press up on the attack. That's why the third period was non-descript for a team facing elimination on home ice. The Predators just don't have another level offensively. They base everything offensively on hard work and opportunism. The Canucks wisely refused to feed into the formula. Accordingly and appropriately, the Vancouver Canucks move on.
1. Ryan Kesler, Canucks: Kesler set the tone with his roughhouse tactics on goaltneder Pekka Rinne, assisted on both goals and was relentless all over the ice. Kesler took this series over and with the two helpers, he seized command of the NHL playoff scoring race (15 points). More pertinently, Kesler led his team into the West finals.
2. Mason Raymond, Canucks: The speedy role player chipped in with a huge goal and used his legs to execute the game plan -- check, check and check some more. That initial goal was just the tonic his team needed to get into their defensive posture and force the Preds to prove they could come back again. They couldn't.
3. Alex Edler, Canucks: In a game defined by defensive positioning, smart passing and disciplined physical play, Edler exemplified those qualities all night long. His first passes on the breakouts were impeccable, allowing the Canucks to exit the D-zone with minimal time spent chasing and battling the Predators' forwards.