NASHVILLE, Tenn. – When it was over, when the coach who had spent all 12 seasons in Nashville Predators' history behind the bench finally saw his team to victory in a playoff series, Barry Trotz talked about the six-game win over Anaheim as a perfect example of "Predator hockey."
In particular, he cited 22-year-old Nick Spaling's two goals, including the game-winner, in Game 6's 4-2 victory that vanquished the Ducks and the goal by checking-line center Jerred Smithson in overtime that won Game 5.
"Nick Spaling is not known for scoring a lot goals, but there he is scoring big goals," said Trotz of his player who has eight career regular season goals — all this season – in 102 games. "This series sort of symbolized how the Predators play in a lot of ways. (David) Legwand's line got a couple of goals and they're playing lots against (Ryan) Getzlaf. And Fisher's line got us some goals, and Smithson's line got us goals. (Blake) Geoffrion's line got us goals.
"That's sort of what we do. That's our DNA. To win this series, we needed everybody and everybody contributed."
Just as the Predators had to get used to the idea of playing a clinching playoff game at home for the first time ever in this their sixth trip to the postseason, now they will have to get used to the idea of time off between rounds and waiting to see who their opponents will be. Trotz gave the team Monday off and the players will have to wait to see if they play Central Division foe and two-time playoff nemesis Detroit, a four-game winner over Phoenix in the first round, or top-seeded Vancouver in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Spaling's second goal at 4:53 of the third period was the one that finally got Nashville over the hump. Taking the puck with speed through the neutral zone, Jordin Tootoo (five points in six games) drove the net, but Ducks goalie Ray Emery stopped his try. Ducks defenseman Andreas Lilja, who was beaten to the net on the play, compounded his error by crashing into Emery and allowing Spaling to pick up the loose puck and roof it over the fallen goalie.
"Both goals, he made great plays there," Spaling said of Tootoo, who had the primary assist on both of his goals. "For him driving the net there, he created the whole goal. It was just me shooting it in."
With Emery pulled for an extra attacker, Ducks center Saku Koivu was called for interference with 37.5 seconds left in regulation, ending Anaheim's comeback attempt.
Legwand, perhaps fittingly as he is the organization's all-time leading scorer and first-ever draft pick, No. 2 overall in 1998, scored an empty-net goal with 9.2 seconds left in regulation to seal it.
"There were a couple of mistakes again – cost a couple of goals," Selanne said. "We couldn't avoid those for some reason. I think the whole series – defensively – we were not as good as we wanted. It was not a problem to score goals, but when you let too many goals and too many mistakes, that really hurt us. I think that was the difference."
The Ducks had a power play at 7:48 of the third with a chance to tie but Selanne hit the post and the puck skittered out through the goalmouth behind Predators goalie Pekka Rinne and the Preds killed it.
Rinne, who was credited by Trotz with making big saves with the game on the line in the third period, said after Selanne hit the post, he thought to himself "just battle as hard as you can."
"You're just happy it didn't go in," he said. "That was kind of a lucky break there and we needed that. That was a key moment of the game, for sure. We needed that, but that was a great (penalty kill) at the end, there. For sure, one of the game-changers."
The game entered the third period knotted at 2-2 after the Ducks scored a power-play goal with 1:37 left in the second period. Nashville forward J-P Dumont was overly aggressive on the forecheck and took down the Ducks' Luca Sbisa deep in Anaheim's zone to earn the Ducks their first power play.
The Ducks peppered Rinne (25 saves) with six shots on the power play, finally converting when Jason Blake tipped Bobby Ryan's shot from the left circle through Rinne's pads. Anaheim's power play at that point had converted 8 of 21 tries in the series.
Earlier, Dumont's primary assist helped Nashville to take a 2-1 lead. On a 2-on-2, he sent in Steve Sullivan alone and Sullivan faked around Emery for the goal at 3:29.
Entering the final minute of the first period, Nashville had outshot Anaheim 9-4 but trailed 1-0. Spaling tied it on the Preds' final shot of the period at 19:32. Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter, unusually deep in the offensive zone, stripped Preds defenseman Cam Fowler of the puck on the forecheck behind the Ducks' net and Tootoo sent the puck from the corner to Spaling in the slot and Spaling ripped a wrist shot high to the blocker side of Emery.
"I thought there was less time on the clock than there was," Suter said with a sheepish laugh of his decision to play so deep in the offensive zone. "I thought there was like 10 seconds left so I was just going in to try and make a play. Looked up after the goal, I was like, 'Oooh.'"
Selanne scored his playoff-leading sixth goal of the postseason at 10:22 for the game's first goal. Selanne skated with the puck behind Nashville's net and Preds defenseman Kevin Klein stopped at the left post, expecting Jonathon Blum to pick up Selanne when he came out on the other side. Blum did, but he was late and Selanne got off a clean shot that beat Rinne from a steep angle.
Said Ducks coach Randy Carlyle of the 40-year-old Selanne, who has contemplated retirement despite a brilliant regular and postseason: "Nobody tried harder, nobody cared more, nobody did more in this series than Teemu Selanne. It is an emotional time for him right now because of what happened. There is always that looming 'this is the last one' and I'm sure he doesn't want to go out feeling the way he does right now."
Carlyle shuffled his lineup again as he had done most of the series, bringing Jarkko Ruutu back in after sitting out Game 5 with a suspension for a hit to the head of Nashville's Martin Erat and also dressing Dan Sexton for the first time in the series. (Erat remained out for the second straight game.)
But it was mostly tinkering around the edges. They could not find a way past the Preds in the series despite home-ice advantage.
"I talked about it a little yesterday was that you cannot give up four goals and expect to win consistently," Carlyle, the former Cup-winning coach said. "I thought we provided enough offense in the series but we didn't provide enough defense. The game (5) in Anaheim – them scoring with 35 seconds left — kind of put a dagger in us that you aren't afforded many mistakes when that happens to you."