2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – Semifinals Game 4 Recap
Western Conference Semifinal Game 4 - Vancouver 4, Nashville 2 – Canucks lead series, 3-1
Ryan Kesler is simply the right man in the right place at the right time. That’s more than half the battle in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and that’s why the Vancouver Canucks, once sweating bullets in the face of a Game 7 overtime period against the Chicago Blackhawks, are now just one win away from the conference finals.
Yes, it’s been a sweet turnaround for the Vancouver franchise, which – a week and a half ago – stood on the fragile ground of overtime in an elimination game against a longtime nemesis from Chicago. Somehow, the Canucks pulled through that frightening encounter, however, and now, they truly do look like a top seed. Vancouver completed its second road win in three nights to take control of this West semifinal against the Nashville Predators. The man at the heart of the Canucks’ success has been none other than Mr. Kesler, the hockey worker bee who made sure his team’s efforts in Nashville will not go unrewarded.
On Tuesday night in Game 3 of this series, it was Kesler who ended the proceedings with an overtime goal to give Vancouver a crucial 2-1 series lead over the Predators, who are playing their first second-round series in franchise history. On Thursday night in Game 4, with the score tied at two midway through the third period, it was Kesler who beat Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne to silence a yellow-shirted throng at Bridgestone Arena. When the Canucks’ defense and Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo kept the Preds off the board after Kesler’s goal, the team that had inspired so little confidence during the Chicago series had suddenly vaulted into a dominating position one round later. While the San Jose Sharks mop up the ice with the Detroit Red Wings in the other semifinal, it seems that the Canucks are ready to meet their fellow West Coast foes in a distinctly Pacific-flavored Western Conference finals series.
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Yes, the Canucks must finish off the Preds in Game 5 this Saturday in Vancouver, but if Game 4 in the state of Tennessee was any indication, the President’s Trophy winners are going to find it hard to lose control of this series.
It’s true that the Canucks are playing solid hockey, but one has to mention that the Predators blew two huge chances to gain the upper hand in the second period. With the score tied at one near the 7:45 mark of the second period, Luongo lost his stick in the far corner of the rink, behind the goal line. Action continued for a good 30 seconds without Luongo being able to retrieve his very necessary piece of equipment. All Nashville had to do on an up-ice rush was avoid an offside violation, walk the puck into the zone, and snap off a halfway decent shot to Bobby Lou’s non-glove side.
Instead, the Preds committed that offside violation. The rest of the story was oh-so predictable.
Vancouver took a 2-1 lead just over a minute after that offside violation occurred. Then, a few minutes later, Nashville failed to score – or even unload more than one shot – on a 47-second stretch of 5-on-3 hockey. Yes, Nashville squandered 47 seconds’ worth of a two-man advantage. That’s how hockey series get lost in the playoffs.
Ryan Kesler made sure of it, and when Henrik Sedin scored an empty-net goal with 21 seconds left in regulation, the deed had been done beyond all doubt.
Vancouver once was shaking; now the confident Canucks are shaking up the Nashville Predators. A lot can change in a week and a half.
By: Matt Zemek
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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