Uncharted territory: Predators force Game 7 vs. Ducks

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."


Best NHL hockey photos, 2015-2016 regular season
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Uncharted territory: Predators force Game 7 vs. Ducks
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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