NASHVILLE — By treating their elimination game like a Game 7, the Nashville Predators finally have pushed a playoff series to a seventh game.
Now they want to go back to Anaheim and finish off the Ducks.
James Neal scored the winning goal late in the second period, and the Predators beat Anaheim 3-1 on Monday night to force the second Game 7 in the first round of this post-season.
“Anything can happen,” Nashville captain Shea Weber said. “It’s obviously two good teams that are pretty equal and it is going to come down to the last game, and we’ll see how it goes.”
The Predators had lost the previous five Game 6s when needing a win to stay alive in the playoffs, and they snapped a three-game skid to the Ducks to force this series back to Anaheim for the deciding game Wednesday night.
“For our group to come together like that with the way we played at home, we really wanted to make sure we left it all on the ice tonight because it would have been really disappointing if we lost every game at home,” Predators centre Ryan Johansen said.
Weber sealed the victory with an empty-net goal with 10 seconds left off an assist by Neal. Mattias Ekholm also scored a goal, and Pekka Rinne made 26 saves for the win.
“I don’t think there’s anything better in the Stanley Cup (playoffs) than a Game 7 when everything means something,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “It’s a big game, our guys will be excited.”
Ryan Kesler scored a power-play goal for the Ducks, who now are 8-6 in Game 6s. They return to Anaheim where they lost their last three last spring in the Western Conference finals to eventual Stanley Cup champ Chicago. They also lost Game 7 on home ice to the Kings in 2014 and Detroit in 2013.
“It’s a new team, new time,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Every year is different. Every day is different. We’re looking forward to the game.”
This will be the first Game 7 with Anaheim for players such as left wing David Perron. The Ducks did become the first to win on home ice in this series in Game 5.
“We are going to have to rely on guys who have been there before and we are going to throw our everything at them, play our best game and find a way to move on to that second round,” Perron said. “I’m excited for our next game already.”
Rinne, who had been struggling in this series, came up big late. He stopped Corey Perry on a point-blank shot from in front with 6:40 left and turned away Perron’s wrister with less than 3 minutes to go.
Nashville brought out Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker to wave a towel and charge up the sellout crowd. Fans just needed something to cheer after watching the Predators get outscored 12-3 in losing the last three games. They also got right wing Craig Smith back on the ice after he missed most of the last three games with a lower-body injury.
Ekholm put the Predators up 1-0 at 8:10 of the second period, beating Andersen with a wrister from the top of the right circle off a pass from Calle Jarnkrok. That made the defenceman Nashville’s top goal scorer with his second in this series. Fans rewarded the Predators with not one, but two standing ovations in the period.
The Predators took a 2-0 lead when Johansen brought the puck up the right side and passed to Neal at the left post who tapped the puck into the net behind Andersen at 17:45.
“They’re fighting for their lives, and we knew that we were going to get their best,” Ducks centre Ryan Getzlaf said.
The Ducks got a power play with 42.8 seconds left in the period when officials penalized Ekholm for holding Hampus Lindolm after the Anaheim defenceman jumped onto Ekholm’s back at the end boards. Kesler tapped the puck into the net behind Rinne who had just stopped a tip-in attempt by Perry.
Fans still furious at the penalty tossed a handful of the towels given away by the Predators onto the ice and booed as the period ended.
NOTES: The only other Game 6 Nashville won came in 2011 when clinching the franchise’s first post-season series win over Anaheim. … Andersen passed Jonas Hiller (26) for second for most post-season games played by an Anaheim goalie with his 27th playoff appearance. … Predators centre Cody Bass played only 1 minute, 17 seconds and three shifts before leaving the game with a lower-body injury. … Nashville had a 21-11 edge in blocked shots.