By Amanda DiPaolo
The Nashville Predators have been looking for a playoff hero during the Western Conference semi-finals. Goaltender Pekka Rinne has been incredible, keeping the Predators in close one-goal games. But scoring goals against Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo has not been easy.
Mike Fisher, Shea Weber, Jerred Smithson and Jordin Tootoo–heroes in the series against Anaheim–have been all but kept off the scoresheet. Fisher recorded his first point in the series on Saturday night when he set up Joel Ward’s snap shot early in the third period to give the Predators a 3-2 lead.
Predators forwards, and linemates, Ward and David Legwand rose to the challenge Saturday night in Vancouver, each scoring two goals for Nashville.
“Our backs are still against the wall. We have to come home and play hard and get another win at home. You have to fight your way out. We were in a crunch for the last 20-30 games. Hopefully we will be ready to go,” Legwand said about the Game 5 victory and being prepared for Game 6 on Monday.
Ward and Legwand have had an excellent postseason, especially Ward who has broken the franchise record for most points in one playoff year at 12 points in 11 games, and counting. Ward scored only 10 goals during the regular season, but his 7 playoff tallies have him tied for the League lead during the playoffs. His 12 points are good for second in playoff points.
The previous franchise points record was 7, held by Legwand as well as Paul Kariya.
Ward, who scored two third period goals on Saturday night, credits his stellar play to lucky bounces and just playoff hockey.
“I don’t know. It’s a fun time to be playing hockey. I enjoy it very much. I cannot really pinpoint on one or two things, I’m just seeing the puck and have found some holes. I got some good bounces. It’s playoff hockey. This is what you dreamed of when you were kids. If you aren’t having fun, you should be in here,” he said.
Ward says the team doesn’t need a playoff hero, they just need to stick to Predators hockey.
“The way we do it here is collectively, as a group,” Ward said, adding, “Everybody would like to go out there and score a hat trick but we try do things collectively as a group. It’s different every night, guys will step up.”
In 11 playoff games this season, Legwand has 5 goals and 3 assists for 8 points. A year ago, the Detroit, Michigan native lead the Predators with 7 points in the six-game series against Chicago in the Western Conference Quarter Finals.
Legwand says Saturday night’s win was huge for building confidence.
“It’s big. When you can go in the opposition’s building and win a road game it’s huge. It is a tough building to play in, in front of their fans. We stuck to our game and played hard,” he said.
“Hopefully it can creep in the back of their minds again,”Legwand said about Vancouver being able to eliminate a team from the post season but having difficulty doing so. In the quarter finals, the Canucks held a 3-0 series lead against Chicago but let the Blackhawks win three straight, forcing a game 7 that took overtime to decide.
Like Ward, Legwand credits the team as a whole for Nashville forcing a game 6.
“We’ve had big goals from everybody in the playoffs so far. Everybody has been contributing and that’s a big thing for us,” he said, and when asked about scoring two short handed goals in 5 games against a team that only allowed two short-handed goals in 82 regular season contests, Legwand credits luck as much as good hockey sense.
“Just bounces and being smart. They have an excellent power play and do the right things all the time,” he said.
Game 6 is Monday night at Bridgestone Arena. The plaza party gets under way at 4 pm. The puck drops at 7 pm CT, as the Predators hope to force their first ever game 7 in a series.
“I don’t know how it will end, but we just have to get a win tomorrow and keep it going,” Legwand said about Monday night’s game. Smashville will be out in full force to see if the Predators can keep their storybook playoff run alive.
Photo credit: AP
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