VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) - Joel Ward stepped up just in time to keep the Nashville Predators alive for at least one more game.
Ward scored two goals less than five minutes apart early in the third period and the Predators avoided elimination for the first time in team history with a 4-3 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinal series.
``Playing any sport, especially at a professional level, you always want to be that hero and score that big goal in certain times,' said Ward, who has four goals in three games. ``I just want to win and just try to work hard and not think about it too much.'
David Legwand also scored twice, Pekka Rinne made 31 saves, and Ward had three points for the Predators, who still trail 3-2 in the best-of-seven series but will return home for Game 6 on Monday night.
``You can't go down without a fight,' Legwand said. ``Obviously we're not going to just lay over and let them win the series.'
Ryan Kesler, who lost a tooth and had his face stitched up after he was struck by a deflected puck, scored his second goal of the game with 3:46 left. But it wasn't enough to put the Canucks into the conference finals yet.
``We're resilient,' Kesler said. ``We battled hard. A few bad bounces, but we're in a good spot. We need to go into Nashville and win a hockey game.'
The Predators, in the second round for the first time in franchise history, had been 0-5 in elimination games.
``Mentally is probably the biggest thing for this organization and us players just to go outside of where you are comfortable and have to find that extra gear,' Rinne said. ``That brings a little confidence for us.'
Coming off a two-point effort in a Game 4 loss, Ward one-timed a cross-ice pass from Mike Fisher past the blocker of Roberto Luongo to put Nashville ahead 3-2 at 1:14 of the third period. He pounced on a turnover inside the left circle 4:31 later and quickly snapped a shot past Luongo's glove to make it a two-goal lead.
Ward, who also has six points in three games, has already set franchise records with seven goals and 12 points in the playoffs.
``He's played some pretty good ones, but I don't think he's played a better game in such a big game for us,' Predators coach Barry Trotz said.
Raffi Torres also scored, and Luongo made 19 saves for the Canucks, who blew a 3-0 series lead to Chicago in the first round before winning Game 7 in overtime. They won Games 3 and 4 in Nashville, but didn't want to go back as they hoped to advance to the conference finals for the first time since 1994.
Game 7, if necessary, would be in Vancouver on Wednesday.
``It's frustrating,' said Canucks captain Henrik Sedin, who combined with twin brother Daniel to go minus-7 in Game 5. ``We've been in this place before, but tonight we battled hard. It wasn't a case like Chicago where we gave them two games.
``They had to battle hard tonight to get it.'
The Predators did it despite losing forward Nick Spaling for most of the third period after he was sent face first into the boards. Already missing injured forwards Steve Sullivan and Jerred Smithson, Nashville lost Legwand to a broken skate blade and had to kill a 4-on-3 power play while Fisher was in the penalty box in the third period.
``Those 'oh-no' moments make us strong,' Trotz said. ``That's us. That's what our DNA is. We're a resilient group. One of the themes we've had since Day One in Nashville is let's not make any excuses for anything, and we don't.'
The Canucks lost forward Mikael Samuelsson to an undisclosed lower body injury in the first period, and the team said he won't travel to Nashville for Game 6.
After taking an early lead on Legwand's short-handed breakaway, Nashville fell behind 2-1 before the first period ended. Torres scored his first playoff goal since 2006, and Kesler added his fourth in three games.
But Legwand got the Predators into a 2-2 tie with help from a lucky bounce 51 seconds into the second period with a pass from behind the net that deflected off a stick and up and over the net, off Luongo's head, off Canucks defenseman Alex Edler and in.
``That was probably one of the weirdest I've ever gotten scored on,' Luongo said. ``But it's 2-2. There's no reason for us to put our heads down.'
NOTES: Nashville RW J.P. Dumont made his series debut in place of Smithson, who didn't make the trip to Vancouver after taking an elbow in the nose from Kesler in Game 4. ... Sullivan was hurt in Game 3, and the Predators have no extra forwards with them. ... The Canucks are 6-1 in series they led 3-1. The lone blemish was a loss to Minnesota in 2003.
The Associated Press News Service
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