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Cullen: Ward Leads the Way for Predators

Scott Cullen
5/8/2011 12:08:41 AM
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With their season on the line, the Nashville Predators got an outstanding performance from the rarest of breeds in the National Hockey League -- a graduate of Canadian University Hockey.

Predators winger Joel Ward has been a reliable two-way player in the three seasons that he's played for Nashville, but he's never been plus-4 in a game before, as he was Saturday night, and only once in his career (257 regular season and playoff games) had Ward tallied three points in a game before Saturday's two-goal, one-assist performance.

Ward, who has never surpassed 35 points in an NHL season, now has 12 points in the playoffs, tying him with San Jose's Ryane Clowe for tops in the Western Conference in this year's playoffs.

After his OHL career with Owen Sound concluded, Ward recorded 135 points in 96 games at the University of Prince Edward Island between 2001 and 2005, then played three years in the American Hockey League before getting his opportunity in The Show.

Ward's centreman, David Legwand, provided two goals as well.  It's really been quite a transformation this season for Legwand, a player that has long been considered an underachiever -- at least offensively -- since getting drafted second overall in 1998. 

He finished the season with 15 points in the last 19 games and now has eight points in 11 playoff games; not outrageously spectacular, but pretty good for a player that has topped 50 points just once in 11 NHL seasons. 

What's even better for the Predators, on top of Ward and Legwand making a difference offensively, is that they spent much of the game, in Vancouver, matched up against the Canucks' number one line of Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Alex Burrows.

The end result was that the Sedins combined for a minus-7 rating; considering they were held off the scoresheet again, the ongoing struggles of the Sedin Twins have provided plenty of fodder for their critics. 

I've defended their playoff performances in years past but, at some point, the Sedins are going to have to contribute, even lead, if the Canucks are going to have realistic hopes of winning the Stanley Cup and, right now, they're a long way from leading.

For the first time since Game Five against Chicago, Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo allowed more than two goals against, surrendering four on 23 Nashville shots.

Canucks winger Mikael Samuelsson, who has been a relative washout in this postseason (three points in 11 games, one point in the last nine) left in the first period with a lower body injury that will prevent him from playing in Game Six. 

On the plus side for the Canucks, looking for a silver lining as they head back to Nashville for Game Six, Ryan Kesler was a beast again, scoring a pair of goals, leading the Canucks with six hits and absolutely dominating in the faceoff circle, winning 21 of 26 draws.  Kesler now has nine points during a four-game point streak.

Vancouver had an opportunity to close out the series on home ice and now face a challenge against a Nashville team that has been, not surprisingly, resilient.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.




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