The Nashville Predators managed to keep the game as ugly as the catfish their fans like to toss on the ice but it was not enough to overcome the Vancouver Canucks' equal determination and superior talent.
As a result, the Canucks took a 2-1 win Monday night to make their first NHL Western Conference final since 1994, when they eventually lost the Stanley Cup final to the New York Rangers in a thrilling seven-game series. They finally shook off the persistent, clinging Predators in six games, with the road team winning five of those six.
The Canucks will make one more cross-continent trip home on Tuesday to await the winner of the other Western semi-final between the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks. They will get a chance to rest for the rest of the week, though, as Rogers Arena is booked Thursday and Friday, which means the conference final cannot start until Saturday.
For the Predators, who finally won a playoff series this year to take a step forward and ignite some passion among the local citizens, it was a case of the little engine finally running out of steam. They played their trademark defensive game, which was helped by the soft, chippy ice at Bridgestone Arena, but once again their offence, in particular the power play, was simply not up to scratch.
The Predators stayed within a goal by the start of the third period only to run into a determined Canucks defensive effort. Over the final 20 minutes, the Canucks fore-checked hard, outshooting the Predators 10-6 to deny them a chance to tie the game.
"I was a little bit nervous in the third period but it was our best period of the series," said Canucks forward Daniel Sedin, who scored his first goal of the series on a first-period power play. "We didn't give them a thing."
That was echoed by Daniel's twin brother Henrik, who noted the Predators are a team that never goes away.
"They are one of those teams you can never really shut down," he said. "They've got a great goalie. They know if they get to the third period down one goal they have a chance.
"But our team sticks together and we believe in ourselves."
The Canucks wasted little time at the start of the game in making the Predators pay for a mistake after the hosts opened the game by squandering their first of many power-play chances.
Ryan Kesler showed why he was the best player in this series when he pounced on a sloppy blind pass by Nashville defenceman Ryan Suter that was intended for his partner, Shea Weber. Kesler fed the puck to Mason Raymond, who scored his first goal of this year's playoffs.
Next up for the goat's horns was Predators winger Jordan Tootoo. He put a little too much flourish on a fall to the ice after Canucks defenceman Alexander Edler hit him. Throughout this series there was much debate about the Canucks' acting prowess in getting the referees to make some dubious penalty calls. Someone obviously had a word with the officiating crew and it turned out to be the Predators who paid the price with a call for unsportsmanlike conduct that was not exactly marginal but hardly clear-cut.
Sedin's power-play goal gave the Canucks a 2-0 lead before the game was 10 minutes old.
For the last half of the period, the Predators displayed the impotence of their power play, which went into the series with a sorry 1-for-16 post-season mark. They were given four chances in the first period and another one in the second and barely registered a decent scoring chance, although the Canucks penalty killers can take credit, too.
"We've got four guys who work together," Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa said of the penalty killers. "We block shots. It's not artistic, but who cares? We're on to the next round."
However, the Predators specialize in ugly hockey and as the second period dragged on, it grew uglier by the minute. As always, the Predators never throw in the towel and they kept bouncing back until a break went their way as it often has in this series.
Predators centre David Legwand cut the Canucks' lead to 2-1 early in the second period when bounced a puck off goaltender Roberto Luongo's rear end and into the net. But that was all they could manage.
The story of the series might be not enough scoring for the Predators and too much Kesler, according to Nashville head coach Barry Trotz.
"If he doesn't play that way, maybe we're going to Game 7," Trotz said. "He took it to a level few players can reach."Report Typo/Error