So much is made of the term "Predator Hockey" but folks outside of Nashville don't seem to know what it means. A highlight film of game two between the Nashville Predators and the Vancouver Canucks would be a perfect example of what the term means. There was stellar goaltending, strong defense, and a game winning goal by a player that few folks outside of Music City had ever heard of.
Matt Halischuck scored the game winning goal 14:51 into the second overtime period to give the Predators a 2-1 win and even the series at 1-1 as the team captured home ice advantage as they head back to Nashville for game three on Tuesday night.
The true hero of the game was Pekka Rinne who made several career best saves in overtime to extend the game long enough for the Predators to score. The Predators defense limited Vancouver to 33 shots and Rinne stopped all but one.
At the other end of the ice, Robeto Luongo had an excellent game and had it not been for the odd game-tying goal from Ryan Suter with just over a minute left in regulation, he would be celebrating back to back shut outs and carrying a 2-0 lead to Nashville. Luongo was under pressure all game and stopped 44 of 46 Predator shots.
The game stated out at a break-neck speed from both teams with plenty of end to end action. Both teams wanted to push the pace in the opening period but the Canucks appeared to move to a more measured pace as the period wound down.
The only infraction during the opening period was a questionable interference call against Mikael Samuelsson who clipped Joel Ward. The Predators had good pressure on the man advantage with three shots.
The period ended 0-0, exactly as it had in the prior five meetings between the two teams this year. After a horrible game one, the Predators dominated all the statistics in the opening period including shots (12-6), hits (18-7), and blocked shots (10-2). After a horrible effort in the faceoff circle in game one, the Preds were 13-8 to open the game. The Canucks led the Corsi 18-16.
The Predators came out with same energy to start the second period. They went on the power play at 1:37 when Christian Ehrhoff was called for hooking Shane O'Brien. After an initial Vancouver clear, Ryan Kesler disrupted a Sergei Kostitsyn break out and worked with Pred-killer Alexandre Burrows who scored a short-handed goal at 2:00 to give the Canucks a 1-0 lead.
The Predators managed good pressure and a pair of shots on the remaining man-advantage time. Play was halted momentarily at 2:28 when a Shea Weber bomb deflected off Dan Hamhuis and nailed Mart Erat in the ear hole of his helmet. Erat missed a couple of shifts but returned at 6:17.
Jordin Tootoo was called for tripping at 7:33 when he gave a slight tap to Keith Ballard who was skating behind the Predators net. The Canucks did not get off a shot on the man advantage which was their only opportunity of the game.
The Preds continued spirited play for the remainder of the period but could not break through on the scoreboard. The Preds out shot the Canucks 9-4 and led the Corsi 18-17 in the second period.
The Predators skated as hard as they ever have as the final period started and they showed plenty of pressure and intensity toward the middle of the period but Luongo was standing on his head on several Preds' scoring chances.
The best scoring chance came on a Jordin Tootoo breakaway at 11:15 when Ballard turned the puck over at the Vancouver blue line. A diving Luongo kicked it with his skate to keep it out of the net.
Finally, with just 1:07 left on the clock, the hockey gods re-payed the Predators (and Rinne) for their incredible performance when Suter flung the puck at the net from the back wall and it slipped under Luongo and it rebounded into the net off the goalies far skate to tie the game 1-1.
The Canucks weren't done as they went back down the ice and put as much pressure on Rinne as he had seen all evening but the Predators luck held on to send the game to overtime.
In the third period, the Predators out shot Vancouver 15-5 and led the Corsi 25-10 as they were relentless in pushing the puck at the net consistently for the entire period. Luongo was playing one of the best games in his playoff career before the fluke goal found the net.
Vancouver looked much better in the first overtime putting good pressure on the Predators. The save of the game may have been made by Rinne on back to back point blank shots by Samuelsson and Daniel Sedin at 4:15 in the first overtime.
The Preds appeared to have gotten an advantage at 6:57 into overtime when the Canucks were called for too many men on the ice to put Nashville on the power play. The Preds got a pair of shots but could not convert.
At 17:45 Rinne may have made the save of his career when he extended out to stop a Kevin Bieksa back-door shot. At 18:51 he stopped another one from Max Lapierre that was almost as spectacular.
Vancouver played their best period of the game during the during the first overtime outshooting the Preds 11-7 and leading the Corsi 19-14.
During the second overtime, the game became the longest in Predator history eclipsing a the double overtime 5-4 loss to San Jose in game one on April 11, 2007. At 6:30 into the second OT, Bieksa was called for delay of game but the Preds did not get a shot on goal during the man advantage.
Both teams appeared to become fatigued as the second period wore on. Finally, at 14:51, Nick Spaling sent a pass to Halischuk who lifted it over a diving Bieksa and high into the net past Luongo to set off midnight celebrations all across Middle Tennessee.
In the second overtime, Vancouver out shot the Predators 7-3 and led the Corsi 15-7.
Rinne received the first star of the game for the second game in a row and erased any doubts about his sub-par performance in round one against the Ducks.
The Predators will spend the night in Vancouver and will return home to the Signature terminal around 5 p.m. on Sunday. We will will have more information when it is available.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass