Pontus Aberg's first career postseason goal lifted the Nashville Predators to a 3-1 win in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final Saturday night against the Ducks in Anaheim. The Predators are now one win away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.
Anaheim jumped out to a 1-0 lead 7:14 into the second period. Racing down the ice in transition, Brandon Mountour threw a shot on goal. Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne made a glove save, but couldn't hold onto the puck. Chris Wagner pounced on the rebound and buried the second-chance attempt on the doorstep.
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Colin Wilson tied the game with just 41 seconds remaining in the second frame. A shot from the point courtesy of P.K. Subban got knocked down before it could find the back of the net, but Wilson was camped out in front of the net to capitalize. He collected the loose puck and banked a backhander off a post and past Anaheim goalie Jonathan Bernier for Nashville's lone power play goal of the night.
Bernier came on in relief for Anaheim to start the second period. He replaced John Gibson, who suffered a lower-body injury. Bernier stopped 16 of 18 shots faced, while Gibson was a perfect 10-for-10 for the Ducks in the first period.
Two third-period goals provided the Predators with the lead and insurance. A tip-in from Aberg gave Nashville the lead with 8:59 remaining. Austin Watson finished the night off with an empty-net goal 48 seconds before the game ended.
Nashville now has a 3-2 series lead. The Western Conference Final has been close throughout. Out of the 299:47 of ice time in the series, 265:24 of it has been played with a tie score or one-goal lead by either team.
Game 6 is set for Monday in Nashville.
Depth to the rescue
A lower-body injury ended Ryan Johansen's 2017 playoff run prior to Game 5. The injury pokes another hole in a Nashville team that's now a win away from its first-ever trip to the Stanley Cup Final. Before Saturday night, Johansen led the team in points (13), assists (10) and face-off win percentage (54.3 percent). He also was tied for first in power play time-on-ice-per-game (3:03), was third in plus-minus (plus-12) and fifth on the team in goals this postseason (3).
Johansen's absence Saturday night was alleviated, though, by timely depth scoring. Wilson and Watson's goals were the second each have scored this postseason, Aberg's was his first. In their 11 wins so far, 10 different Predators have notched a game-winning goal in the playoffs.
If Nashville closes the door on Anaheim for good and makes a series run at the Stanley Cup, goals from these and other depth players will be paramount.
Rinne continues to shine in Anaheim
Saturday's win gave Pekka Rinne his seventh career postseason win in 10 tries in Anaheim. It's the most any visiting goalie has ever recorded against the Ducks.
"I think any time going into these games you want to be a difference maker," Rinne told NBC Sports. "I knew I had to be good if we wanted to win these games. There’s been a couple of games I wasn’t happy after the games."
Rinne made 32 saves in Game 5. His .970 save percentage Saturday was the eighth time this postseason he's saved at least 95 percent of the shots he's faced in a game, a figure that includes two shutouts.
Hi, I'm the new guy
Who is Frederick Gaudreau? He's Nashville's 24-year-old rookie, and he made his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut on Saturday night, though it wasn't the first time he's worn a Predators sweater. He skated in nine games during the the regular season this year for Nashville, collecting one assist.
During his 19 shifts and 11:40 of ice time in Game 5, the center won 71 percent of his face-offs.
Gaudreau spent the rest of his time this year with the Predators' American Hockey League affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals. He recorded 48 points (25-23-48) in 66 regular-season games in the AHL during the 2016-17 campaign, and tallied four points (3-1-4) in three games for the Admirals during the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs. In three seasons with Milwaukee, Gaudreau has 101 regular-season points (44-57-101) in 184 games played and five points (3-2-5) in six career games during the Calder Cup Playoffs.