Uncharted territory: Predators force Game 7 vs. Ducks

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Predators drop Ducks to force franchise's first Game 7

(The Sports Xchange) - Call it a new frontier for the Nashville Predators, one the Anaheim Ducks know all too well.

Snapping a scoreless tie with second-period goals by Mattias Ekholm and James Neal, Nashville nursed its lead to the final horn in a 3-1 win over Anaheim on Monday at Bridgestone Arena.

By tying the first-round Western Conference series at three games apiece, the Predators forced the first Game 7 in franchise history on Wednesday in Anaheim.

"Every kid playing hockey plays in a Game 7," Neal said. "They're exciting. It's where heroes are made. You step up in those big moments. There will be some nerves, but I believe in this team. Just enjoy it."

The Predators stayed alive thanks to 26 saves from goalie Pekka Rinne in his best effort of the playoffs.

While Nashville has never been in this spot, the Ducks ended their season with Game 7 defeats the last three seasons after holding 3-2 series leads, as they did in this series.

In last year's Western Conference finals, Anaheim lost 5-3 to the Chicago Blackhawks, who went on to win the Stanley Cup.

Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said previous failures should not have any effect on his team's performance in the do-or-die game.

"It's a new team, it's a new time," he said. "Every day is different, every game is different. We're looking forward to the game."


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Uncharted territory: Predators force Game 7 vs. Ducks
Chicago Blackhawks' Niklas Hjalmarsson skates out to center ice with the Stanley Cup during the championship banner raising ceremony before an NHL hockey game between the Blackhawks and the New York Rangers, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Los Angeles Kings goalie Jhonas Enroth, of Sweden, defects a shot during the third period of a preseason NHL hockey game against the Anaheim Ducks, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Chicago Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov, left, and Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Kesler, right, battle for a loose puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game Monday, Oct. 26, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Washington Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie (77) hits Boston Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid (54) into the boards in the third period of an NHL preseason hockey game, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015, in Washington. The Capitals won 2-1 in a shootout. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Los Angeles Kings left wing Tanner Pearson, right, tries to score on Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, in Los Angeles. The Kings won 3-1. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Tarek Sawan, right, and Alexandra Desbiens celebrate a goal by Montreal Canadiens left wing Max Pacioretty during the third period of the NHL Winter Classic hockey game against the Boston Bruins at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. The Canadiens won 5-1. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Chicago Blackhawks' Andrew Shaw (65) collides with Pittsburgh Penguins' Trevor Daley (6) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
New York Rangers' Jayson Megna (23) struggles to get back on the ice after being checked by New York Islanders' Calvin de Haan (not shown) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in New York. The Islanders won 3-1. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
New York Rangers center Oscar Lindberg (24), from Sweden, tries to hit the puck as Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov (92), from Russia, defends in the second period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand is dropped to the ice in front of Toronto Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer on a rough check during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Boston, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov, of Russia, is hit in the mask while trying to make a stop against the Winnipeg Jets in the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
New York Islanders right wing Cal Clutterbuck (15) goes flying after tripping over Edmonton Oilers defenseman Brandon Davidson (88) in the third period of an NHL hockey game in New York, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. The Islanders defeated the Oilers 8-1. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson (9) celebrates his goal with goalie Ben Bishop (30) during overtime of an NHL hockey game against the Nashville Predators, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)
Carolina Hurricanes goalie Eddie Lack (31) makes a save during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Raleigh, N.C. Lack had 9 saves in the 6-3 win after relieving an injured Cam Ward in the second period. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)
Boston Bruins' Landon Ferraro (29) and Dallas Stars' Jason Demers (4) fall to the ice while competing for the puck in the third period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Washington Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner, left, gets hit by a high stick from Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane during the third period of an NHL hockey game Sunday,Feb. 28, 2016, in Chicago. The Blackhawks won 3-2. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) pushes over the goal cage to force a stoppage of play after being shaken up in a collision with teammate Ryan McDonagh during the second period an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Thursday, March 3, 2016. The Penguins won 4-1. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Calgary Flames defenseman Dougie Hamilton (27) slides across the goal crease to knock away the puck as goaltender Jonas Hiller, right, defends during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres, Thursday, March 3, 2016, in Buffalo, N.Y. Buffalo won 6-3. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)
Detroit Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek (34) stops a Montreal Canadiens shot in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, March 24, 2016 in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, from Russia, keeps his eyes on the puck with St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko (91), also from Russia, nearby in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 26, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Washington Capitals' Jay Beagle (83) cannot get a shot past Philadelphia Flyers' Steve Mason (35) as Shayne Gostisbehere (53) trails during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, March 30, 2016, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 2-1 in a shootout. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand, top, goes airborne after slamming Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce (54) to the ice during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Boston, Tuesday, April 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Anaheim Ducks center Nate Thompson passes the puck during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Los Angeles Kings, Thursday, April 7, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Kings won 2-1. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
St. Louis Blues' Alexander Steen, right, and Washington Capitals' Nicklas Backstrom, of Sweden, become entangled along the boards during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, April 9, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22: Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks and Steven Kampfer #3 of the Florida Panthers watch for the puck next to goalie Roberto Luongo #1 in the first period of the NHL game at the United Center on October 22, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 23: Marek Zidlicky #28 of the New York Islanders and Zac Rinaldo #36 of the Boston Bruins collide along the boards during the third period at the Barclays Center on October 23, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Bruins defeated the Islanders 5-3. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 27: (L-R) Jamie Oleksiak #5 of the Dallas Stars and Chris Stewart #29 of the Anaheim Ducks fight in the first period at American Airlines Center on October 27, 2015 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
SAN JOSE, CA - OCTOBER 28: Mike Brown #18 of the San Jose Sharks flips over Mattias Ekholm #14 of the Nashville Predators as he goes for the puck at SAP Center on October 28, 2015 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 06: Dominic Moore #28, Jarret Stoll #26, Keith Yandle #93 and Jesper Fast #19 of the New York Rangers pursue the puck against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on November 6, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 02: Michael Del Zotto #15 of the Philadelphia Flyers misses a check and crashes into the boards against the Montreal Canadiens during the third period at Wells Fargo Center on February 2, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 21: Matt Dumba #24 of the Minnesota Wild scores against goaltender Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks in the first period of the 2016 Coors Light Stadium Series game at TCF Bank Stadium on February 21, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Wild defeated the Blackhawks 6-1. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA - MARCH 16: Corey Perry #10 of the Anaheim Ducks falls back onto the net as Antti Raanta #32 of the New York Rangers looks on from inside the net during the game on March 16, 2016 at Honda Center in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BC - MARCH 27: Matt Bartkowski #44 of the Vancouver Canucks gets his helmet adjusted during their NHL game against the Chicago Blackhawks at Rogers Arena March 27, 2016 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 02: Keith Yandle #93 of the New York Rangers fals ove Johan Larsson #22 of the Buffalo Sabres during their game at Madison Square Garden on April 2, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Jan 21, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Vancouver Canucks left wing Daniel Sedin (22) dumps Boston Bruins right wing Brett Connolly (14) during the third period of the Vancouver Canucks 4-2 win over the Boston Bruins at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 29: Keith Kinkaid #1 of the New Jersey Devils makes the second period save against the Boston Bruins at the Prudential Center on March 29, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

After erasing a 2-0 series deficit with three impressive wins that saw them outscore the Predators 12-3, the Ducks did not play that badly in Game 6.

They owned a 27-26 edge in shots on goal, tried 13 more shots overall than Nashville (counting those that were blocked or missed the net) and carried play for a majority of the final 30 minutes.

However, the Predators buried two good chances in the second period, and Rinne, who entered the game with a pedestrian save percentage of .889 in the series, looked more like the five-time All-Star he has been during his career.

Rinne delivered his best save with 6:40 remaining in the game. Corey Perry was all alone in the slot with plenty of time to get off a wrister, but Rinne's right pad kicked out the puck.

"Corey's shooting the puck, generally something's going in," Boudreau said. "I thought we kept pushing and had some good chances, but they defended well."

Anaheim goalie Frederik Andersen, who allowed just three goals on 88 shots as the Ducks gained the series lead, played well enough to win, making 23 saves on Monday.

However, he could not do much about Nashville's pair of markers in the middle period.

Ekholm skated around the net from left to right on the first one, finally facing the net from the faceoff circle and wristing a 27-footer through traffic. His second goal of the series came at 8:10 as the sellout crowd of 17,113 roared.

"You obviously want to start with the first goal and get your crowd into it," Ekholm said. "When that first puck went in, it felt like we took a weight off our shoulders."

Neal made it 2-0 at 17:45. Ryan Johansen carried the puck down the right side on an odd-man rush, feeding Neal at the left goalpost for his second goal of the series and his first since the first minute of Game 1.

Anaheim drew within 2-1 on a rebound marker by Ryan Kesler at 19:46 of the second period. It came 29 seconds after a questionable holding call on Ekholm drew the ire of the crowd, inspiring fans to toss some giveaway towels on the ice.

However, the Predators steadied themselves in the third period, Rinne making nine saves to protect the lead. Shea Weber tacked on insurance with an empty-net goal at 19:50.

While Nashville has no Game 7 history as a franchise, coach Peter Laviolette does, having won a Game 7 in the 2006 Stanley Cup finals with the Carolina Hurricanes. Now he gets to steer another team into an adventure few of them know about.

"Game 7s are awesome," Laviolette said. "I think our players will be ready. I don't think there's anything better in the Stanley Cup than a Game 7 when everything means something."

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