Kesler lifts Canucks past Predators for 3-1 series lead

Associated Press
5/6/2011 1:54:50 AM
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NASHVILLE - Ryan Kesler broke a tie with a power-play goal at 7:28 of the third period, and the Vancouver Canucks beat the Nashville Predators 4-2 on Thursday night to take a 3-1 lead in their Western Conference semifinal series.

Christian Ehrhoff scored a power-play goal and had two assists, Kesler also had two assists, and Alexander Edler had a goal. Henrik Sedin notched his first points in the series with two assists and an empty-neter with 20.6 seconds left.

The Canucks, the Presidents' Trophy winners for the NHL's best regular-season record, can close out the series Saturday night in Game 5 in Vancouver.

Joel Ward and Cody Franson each had a goal and an assist for Nashville. The Predators lost consecutive games for the first time this post-season.

Kesler scored his second straight winner with a power-play goal off a penalty he drew.

This time, Nashville defenceman Ryan Suter yanked him down with an arm around his neck for a holding call, and Kesler scored 1:07 later with a beautiful goal. Kesler sliced through a couple of Predators and beat Pekka Rinne with a wrister from the slot. In Game 3, Kesler scored in overtime.

Nashville tried to rally, finally getting Rinne to the bench with about 30 seconds left. Vancouver took its timeout with 29.3 seconds left, and Nashville couldn't hold the puck in off the ensuing faceoff. Sedin clinched the victory with his first goal this post-season.

The Predators opened with plenty of energy with yet another sellout crowd armed with T-shirts to paint the arena gold and fan noisemakers.

But Vancouver has been outshooting and outskating Nashville in taking both games in Music City. The Canucks went up 1-0 with 4:56 left in the first as Ehrhoff scored with Burrows screening Rinne at the edge of the crease. Nashville wanted a call for goaltender interference but didn't get it. The Canucks outshot Nashville 11-6 in the period.

The Predators got the edge they needed when Vancouver defenceman Sami Solo, in the lineup for the first time since getting hurt in Game 6 of the Canucks' opening series against Chicago, went to the box for knocking the puck over the glass with 1:42 left.

Franson fired a shot that Luongo blocked with his pad, and Ward wristed it through the goalie's legs with 41.6 seconds left.

This series gets feistier by the minute, and the first period ended with a bit of scrum and a slashing penalty for Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa and a roughing call for Nashville captain Shea Weber. As officials tried to break it up, Nashville forward Jordin Tootoo hit former teammate Dan Hamhuis with a quick left to the face.

The Predators can blame themselves for wasting prime opportunities to score in the second.

Goalie Roberto Luongo lost his stick after stopping a flurry at the net. Nashville finally got the puck only to be called for offsides at 8:40 of the second, giving Luongo a break to grab his stick in the far corner. The Canucks came right back and went up 2-1 when Edler ripped a slap shot from near the blue-line through traffic past Rinne at 9:43.

The Predators also squandered 47 seconds of a 5-on-3 late in the second when Aaron Rome slashed Erat with Maxim Lapierre in the box for interference. Coach Barry Trotz took Nashville's timeout. But Suter had the Predators' lone shot, and Luongo easily knocked it away with his left pad. They couldn't finish off the final 1:13 with the man advantage either, prompting fans to boo.

Franson tied it at 3:27 of the third, snapping a shot cleanly through Luongo's legs for his first goal this post-season. The lead didn't stand long.

Trotz matched up his third line -- Tootoo, Jerred Smithson and Nick Spaling -- against Kesler's line trying to slow the trio down. But Smithson sustained an upper body injury and missed the last two periods. Trotz also moved Martin Erat from a line with David Legwand to Mike Fisher's line with Sergei Kostitsyn, dropping Patric Hornqvist, Nashville's second-best goal scorer.

NOTES: The Canucks improved to 4-3 in Game 4s on the road. ... Ward has at least a point in eight of Nashville's 10 games this post-season. ... Country star Keith Urban and actress wife Nicole Kidman were on hand for this game. ... Sedin's goal gave the Canucks their biggest margin of victory since their 2-0 win over Chicago to open the post-season. ... Nashville scratched Steve Sullivan because of a lower-body injury, and Colin Wilson got his first playing time this post-season after appearing in all 82 games of the regular season.

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