- Nashville's first series win in 6 tries
- Spaling hadn't scored in 11 previous playoff games
- Selanne departs leading NHL with 6 playoff goals
Sophomore forward Nick Spaling scored his first two NHL playoff goals, including the winner, as the Nashville Predators won their first ever playoff series on Sunday.
Spaling's second came early in the third in front of an ecstatic Bridgestone Arena crowd in a 4-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks. The goal came three minutes after an apparent deflection score from teammate Patric Hornqvist was deemed a high stick.
The Predators won the series 4-2 in games. The franchise, which played its first season in 1998-99, had suffered through five previous playoff series defeats.
"I'm happy because I think of the resiliency of the group that worked so hard all year, and I'm relieved because there is a little bit of a cloud that we wanted to get to the next level," said Barry Trotz, the only coach the franchise has ever had. "And if we never got there in this series, I think there would be a little bit of a carry-over."
Longtime Nashville forward Steve Sullivan also scored, with David Legwand sealing it with an empty-net goal. Predators goalie Pekka Rinne had arguably his best game of the series, while Jordin Tootoo set up both Spaling goals.
Tootoo had four points in the series, matching the total he had in his 24 playoff games before this season.
Rinne called the victory an amazing feeling before yet another sellout crowd.
"We really had a lot of push tonight," Rinne said. "We had a lot of emotion, and we really wanted to get it done tonight in our home building and just you know right now it was a tough series. And they have such a good team. They are never out of the game. It doesn't matter what we do, they always seem to respond.
"It was a great matchup and just couldn't be more happier to come out as a winner of this series."
Nashville will have to wait a few days to learn their second round opponent in the Western Conference. The Predators could play Vancouver, San Jose or Detroit.
"You cannot give up four goals an dexpect to win consistently, and I thought we provided enough offense in the series," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said. "We didn't provide enough defence. [Game 6] in Anaheim with them scoring with 35 seconds left kind of put a dagger in us that you're not afforded many mistakes."
Ageless wonder Teemu Selanne, nearly 41, had his sixth goal of the series for Anaheim, while Jason Blake added his third.
The Ducks didn't go away easily, not with a power-play unit that has been the NHL's best this postseason. They got the man advantage almost midway through the third period when Mike Fisher was penalized for tripping.
But Selanne hit a post, and Vezina Trophy finalist Rinne stopped Blake late to protect the lead. Nashville, the team built from the goalie out through its defence, finished off the win.
Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry were held scoreless for a second straight game. Legwand said Trotz came to him before the faceoff and told him they needed a big game from his line.
"He didn't want that Getzlaf line scoring," Legwand said. "Obviously, they're going to get chances. They didn't put any on the board tonight. That's a huge factor in the series and huge for us."
Anaheim took its timeout with 60 seconds left, having already pulled goalie Ray Emery, who kept the Ducks close by stopping Tootoo on a breakaway, then Matt Halischuk on a rebound. But Legwand scored into the empty net with 9.2 seconds left to wrap up the Predators' biggest win ever.
Jarkko Ruutu also played after sitting out his one-game suspension for a headshot on Martin Erat and only dressed six defence man after having played seven at times this series.
The Ducks had a 2-on-1 chance in the opening minute, but Cam Fowler couldn't handle the bouncing puck off a pass from Perry.
Then the Predators kept the play in front of Emery, outshooting the Ducks 6-2 before Selanne skated around the net and flipped a backhand past his fellow Finn, Rinne, with 9:38 left in the first for a 1-0 lead.
Tootoo helped set up Spaling for the tying goal with 27.9 seconds left in the first, finding Spaling for a wrister past Emery.
Sullivan put the Predators up 2-1 when he broke up the right, used his skate to kick a pass from J.P. Dumont to his stick and then beat Emery with a backhander at 3:29 of the second. Dumont played his second straight game in place of Erat, hurt on the Ruutu play.
Emery protected that lead when Francois Beauchemin high-sticked Halischuk to put Nashville on the power play. Emery somehow knocked away the puck with the paddle of his stick on Predators defenceman Ryan Suter's shot into an open net.
Carlyle put Ryan back with Getzlaf and Perry in the second, trying to generate more offence. The Ducks spent much more time in front of Rinne, but they finally got the break they needed when Dumont tripped Luca Sbisa and gave them their first power play.
Blake tipped in a shot by Ryan in tying it at 2-2 with 1:37 left in the second.
Selanne finished with six goals and an assist, and linemate Saku Koivu had a goal and six assists in the series.