Nashville Predators winger James Neal yells out as he skates to join teammates after scoring a goal. File photo by BIll Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Nashville Predators were the Western Conference's lowest seed entering the NHL playoffs. Using the same formula that led them to victory in the first two playoff rounds, they drew first blood in their Western Conference final series against the Anaheim Ducks.
James Neal scored at 9:24 of overtime to give the Predators a 3-2 victory over the Ducks on Friday in Game 1 of the Western Conference final.
P.K. Subban got the puck at the left point after defense partner Mattias Ekholm drove to the net with the puck and sent it back to Subban from the corner after a scramble in front. Subban then faked a shot and slid the puck to the right to Neal, who one-timed a slap shot that glanced off Corey Perry and into the net for the game-winner. It was Neal's fourth goal of the playoffs.
Austin Watson and Filip Forsberg scored goals for Nashville in regulation and Pekka Rinne made 27 saves.
Anaheim received goals from Jakob Silfverberg and Hampus Lindholm in regulation and John Gibson stopped 43 Nashville shots.
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is scheduled to be played at Honda Center on Sunday.
For the third consecutive series, Nashville won Game 1 on the road, improving its overall postseason record to 9-2.
"We didn't play very well in the third period but we came back strong in overtime," said Predators coach Peter Laviolette. "We continue to get contributions from everyone."
Despite Neal scoring the winning goal, he gave full credit to Rinne for the victory.
"Pekka has been great since the first game of the playoffs against Chicago," Neal said. "He made some really big stops in the third period to get us to overtime."
Ducks coach Randy Carlyle admitted that the short turn around contributed to the defeat. His team only had one day of rest after an emotional Game 7 win against the Edmonton Oilers and were dominated in the opening period.
"We scored on our first shot of the game and then we got outshot 13-1," Carlyle said. "Nashville was the fresher team early but I liked the way we got back into the game after the first period."
Anaheim center Nate Thompson refused to point to the lack of rest between series as the deciding factor in the game. The Predators had three days off after their series win against the St. Louis Blues and appeared to be the quicker team throughout.
"No guy will use the short turnaround from Game 7 as an excuse," Thompson said. "They're an aggressive team that can skate. They're a good hockey club, and it's going to be a tough series."
Anaheim tied the game at 2 on Lindholm's first goal of the playoffs at 7:22 of the third period to force overtime. Lindholm's wrist shot from the left point came off a faceoff win by Thompson. Rinne was unable to track the puck through the traffic in front of the net and it beat him to his short stick side.
Anaheim had taken a 1-0 lead on Silfverberg's unassisted goal, his eighth of the playoffs, at 5:15 of the opening period. Silfverberg's wrist shot beat Rinne to the stick side just inside the right post. It was Silfverberg's 14th career playoff goal, tying him with Paul Kariya for fourth place on the all-time franchise list.
Nashville tied the score at 1 on Forsberg's third goal of the playoffs at 12:34 of the first. Forsberg got position in front of Anaheim's Antoine Vermette to tip Matt Irwin's point shot past Gibson with Ryan Johansen drawing the secondary assist.
The Predators took a 2-1 lead on Watson's first goal of the postseason at 2:42 of the second period. Watson one-timed a slap shot off a cross-ice feed from Johansen that deflected off Anaheim defenseman Sami Vatanen and into the net with Ekholm earning the additional assist.
The Ducks killed off a 5-on-3 disadvantage midway through the third period to keep the game tied. Nashville outshot Anaheim 39-27 through regulation time.
NOTES: Nashville scratched D Anthony Bitetto, RW P.A. Parenteau, RW Craig Smith, RW Miikka Salomaki, D Brad Hunt, LW Harry Zolnierczyk and C Frederick Gaudreau. ... The Predators are the third team in the past 10 years to win nine consecutive playoff games on home ice, joining Pittsburgh (9-0 in 2008) and Los Angeles (9-0 in 2012-13). ... Nashville D Ryan Ellis is the first defensemen to record a seven-game point streak in the postseason since 1998. ... Anaheim did not dress D Kevin Bieksa, D Korbinian Holzer, RW Patrick Eaves and C Logan Shaw. The Ducks reassigned C Sam Carrick to their AHL affiliate San Diego prior to the game. ... Ducks C Ryan Getzlaf is the first player in franchise history to score eight goals through the first 11 games playoff games in any season.