The beginning couldn’t have gone any better for the Nashville Predators. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t carry that over into the middle or the end of the story that was Game 2. The Anaheim Ducks pulled off a rally to tie the series with a 5-3 win on Sunday.
The visitors jumped out of the gate with a pair of goals in the eight and a half minutes. Up 2-0, the Predators had all the momentum as they were in the driver’s seat for a 2-0 series lead heading back to Nashville.
The Ducks had other plans as Sami Vatanen made a late push on the power play to cut the deficit in half with one minute to go in the first period. Thirty-nine seconds into the second, Jakob Silfverberg potted his ninth goal of the postseason, tying Pittsburgh’s Jake Guentzel for the most in the playoffs.
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"The penalty at the end of the first changed the game, changed the momentum," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said.
Filip Forsberg put Nashville back up seven minutes later, but as they did before, the Ducks rallied again, this time with back-to-back goals from two 21-year-olds whom head coach Randy Carlyle moved up in the lineup after the poor start. Ondrej Kase netted his first career postseason goal then saw Nick Ritchie put the Ducks ahead for good at 4-3.
That would be Ritchie’s second game-winning goal in the playoffs.
"Nick Ritchie is a guy that has scored a lot of goals similar to what he scored tonight," said Carlyle. "That's what our project is, to continue to develop him into a power forward and to have that release and weapon he has become more evident to the hockey world."
For good measure, Antoine Vermette added an empty-net goal with 44 seconds to play. Ryan Getzlaf, who assisted on that score, finished with three points on the evening and now sits one point behind Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin (19) for the playoff scoring lead.
After some struggles early, John Gibson settled in, stopping 30 of the 33 shots he saw. Through the first two games of the series, Gibson has seen Nashville fire off 79 shots on goal, the most he's seen in consecutive games all postseason.
Rinne’s tough night
For the first time in the 2017 NHL playoffs, it just wasn’t Pekka Rinne’s night.
The Nashville netminder had a rough outing in Game 2, surrendering four goals on Anaheim’s first 16 shots through two periods. Prior to Sunday, Rinne had never allowed more than three goals in any game this postseason and had only allowed 16 goals in his first 11 games.
Rinne looked particularly out of sorts on Ritchie's goal that gave the Ducks a 4-3 lead. Ritchie received an entry feed from Getzlaf and threw a wrister from a ridiculous angle that snuck above Rinne’s blocker.
In the third period, Rinne made a few key saves to keep it a one-goal game before Anaheim tacked on the empty-netter. On the whole, though, this is one he’ll like to forget. He’ll have the crowd on his side in the next two games, which is bad news for the Ducks: Rinne is 5-0 at Bridgestone Arena this postseason.
Ducks finally break through
It’s not easy winning games when your power play isn’t manufacturing points or even pressure. The Ducks learned this the hard way, going 0 for 4 on the man advantage in Game 1.
Vatanen finally converted for Anaheim, doing so in the first period after the Predators jumped out to an early 2-0 lead. The score put an end to a dreadful 0-for-21 drought on the power play.
In that span—which lasted six full games—the Ducks finished 0 for 4 in four of those contests.
"It's good to get that one. Hopefully it opens up the ketchup bottle and we can get a few more," Vatanen said.
Kesler, Johansen do battle
Ryan Kesler likes to get under the skin of the opposition, that’s no secret.
So maybe it wasn’t a surprise to see him and Predators top-line center Ryan Johansen going head-to-head from the opening draw of Game 2. After the game, Kesler said it’s about being “better than the guy across from you.”
The two both played big roles on Sunday. Johansen started the scoring off in the first period and later added an assist. Meanwhile, Kesler, too, picked up a helper and won 64% of the faceoffs he took, including 10 of 15 against Johansen.
There were a few separate incidents between the pair, including Kesler appearing to throw an elbow up high on Johansen near the benches and a scene in which the two centers jostled each other with head-butts. "I don't know how you can cheer for a player like that," the Nashville pivot said of his counterpart.
This is certainly going to be the battle within the war to pay the most attention to. Will Peter Laviolette use the home-ice advantage to keep Johansen away from Kesler in Games 3 and 4? There’s a real good chance he does so, but it won’t be because Johansen isn’t willing to go up against Kesler.