Vancouver Canucks fail to close out series, return to Nashville for Game 6

The Vancouver Canucks had a chance to earn a few days rest. Instead, the team is taking another long trip to Tennessee.

With their season on the line, the Nashville Predators clawed out a 2-1 victory over the Canucks in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series Tuesday.

“It just sucks. We had a chance to close them out at home with a lead,” said Canucks forward J.T. Miller.

“The margins are obviously close and every little mistake is going to cost you this time of year. It is what it is. It’s going to be a hard-fought series. We didn’t think coming in that it was going to be a five-gamer. And (the Predators) played well tonight.”

The two sides battled through two scoreless periods before defenceman Nikita Zadorov got the Canucks on the board early in the third.

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Roman Josi and Alexandre Carrier replied for the Preds, who narrowed their deficit in the best-of-seven matchup to 3-2. Star winger Filip Forsberg assisted on both tallies.

Rookie goalie Arturs Silovs stopped 20 of 22 shots for Vancouver and Juuse Saros made 19 saves for Nashville.

Predators head coach Andrew Brunette said his top players knew they needed to step up.

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“All year they’ve kind of done it. Proud of them, the resiliency they showed. It was tough,” he said.

“It’s been a tough series to create a whole lot, they’re offensive guys. But they stuck with it, and the message was it might take forever to get it, but keep pounding on the door, and I thought they did a really good job just staying true to themselves. They didn’t cheat the game, and they got their opportunities, and it went in.”

The two sides traded chances across the first 40 minutes of the game.

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Vancouver’s best opportunity of the opening frame came in the dying seconds when Miller bolted out of the penalty box, collected the puck for a breakaway, and sent a wrist shot just wide of the Nashville net.

The Preds came into the second with a burst of offensive force and outshot the home side 11-4 across the period.

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Cole Smith unleashed a one-timer from the middle of the faceoff circle 33 seconds into the frame, hitting the top of Silovs’ blocker. The goalie watched the rebound drop to the ice and pounced to cover it up.

Midway through the second, Nashville got another prime chance, this time while down a man.

With Anthony Beauvillier in the box for hooking, Kiefer Sherwood streaked down the ice on a short-handed breakaway, only to see his shot clang off the post.

Vancouver went 0-for-2 on the power play Tuesday while Nashville was 1-for-4.

“Our power play was awful. We have to look in the mirror as a group here,” Miller said.

“We could have been a factor in the game and we weren’t.”

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The Canucks finally broke the scoring drought 3:11 into the third period when Zadorov fired a sharp-angle shot under the crossbar from just above the goal line.

It was the bruising defenceman’s second goal of the playoffs.

The Predators levelled the score with a power-play goal 7:15 into the third after Dakota Joshua was called for boarding.

Silovs stopped Josi on a breakaway, freezing the puck under his body, only to be pushed into the net, with the puck squirting lose and skittering across the goal line for the Preds’ captain’s first goal of the post-season.

Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet said he thought about challenging for goaltender interference but wasn’t confident the call would go his way.

“If we’re down 2-1, maybe. But it’s a 50-50,” he said. “At that point, we just looked at it. I don’t know what the NHL would do on that one, I don’t.”

The tally snapped the Canucks’ streak of 17 successful penalty kills.

Nashville took the lead 12:46 into the third when Carrier, using a screen from Ryan O’Reilly, blasted a shot past Silovs from just inside the blue line.

Brunette said he was really happy for Carrier.

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“He’s a heart and soul kid, highly competitive. Love him,” the coach said. “Nice to see him get rewarded in a big-time moment and a big-time play.”

Playoff hockey is characterized by close games and Tuesday’s was no different, Zadorov said.

“It’s hard to close in this league,” he said. “Nashville’s a good team. They push back, they stick with it. I feel like we stole last game (a 4-3 overtime win) in their building, they stole this game here. So it’s on us to go out there and play our best hockey and try to shut them down next game.”

The series now heads to Nashville on Friday for Game 6.

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