Exploiting mistakes can provide the key to success in the Stanley Cup playoffs, as the Nashville Predators demonstrated Friday night.
Filip Forsberg scored with 9 minutes, 35 seconds to play to give the Predators a 3-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks in the first game of the Western Conference quarterfinals in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 17,236 at the Honda centre.
James Neal and Craig Wilson also scored while goalie Pekka Rinne stopped 27 shots for the Predators.
"It was an evenly matched game," said Nashville defenceman Ryan Ellis, who added that the final score "was exactly what we expected the result to be."
Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler scored the Ducks' goals, and goalie John Gibson made 30 saves.
"It was a matter of giving them too many opportunities," Anaheim left winger Andrew Cogliano said about the Predators. "They're good at transitioning and capitalising on mistakes. A few of those goals were exactly that. We have to manage the puck a lot better."
Game 2 will take place Sunday night at the Honda centre.
Forsberg broke a 2-2 tie at 10:25 of the third period. After poke-checking the puck away from Anaheim defenceman Simon Despres in the Predators' end, Forsberg skated unmolested down the left wing, deked past the Ducks' Jamie McGinn and passed the puck toward Craig Smith, stationed behind Anaheim defenceman Shea Theodore.
But Forsberg's pass hit Theodore's left skate and slowly skidded just beyond Gibson's left skate and glove inside the right post.
Kesler gave the Ducks a 2-1 lead 48 seconds into the second period. Andrew Cogliano passed from the right boards to an onrushing Kesler, who dragged a wrist shot from the rear edge of the left circle that deflected off the underside of the crossbar.
But Wilson re-tied the score more than seven minutes later. Ellis skated along the right wing from the Predators' end and sent a pass from the right circle to Wilson, who deflected the puck under Gibson's glove and inside the right post at 7:55.
"At the beginning of the second period, after we scored to take the lead, they took it to us for the first 10 minutes," Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said. "They pushed it to the limit, physically. That tipped goal changed the momentum."
Ellis then blocked the potential tying goal with 5:24 left in the second period. As McGinn tried to convert the rebound of Rickard Rakell's shot, Ellis slipped at the goal line and blocked McGinn's shot while on his back and with Rinne falling on top of him.
"That was more fluky than anything else," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. "I'm not sure that was the plan when he went down, but he found himself there and put up a wall on the goal line."
Neal scored 35 seconds into the game, and five seconds after another scoring chance went awry.
Calle Jarnkrok and Shea Weber had a 2-on-0 breakaway but after Weber received Jarnkrok's pass, Gibson dived to block the shot at the right post. Jarnkrok recovered the puck behind the net and passed it toward the left corner.
As Despres and Nashville's Ryan Johansen pursued the puck, Johansen poked it with his stick to Neal, whose wrist shot ricocheted off Gibson's glove and inside the right post.
"We knew they were going to be jacked up at home," Neal said. "We quieted the crowd down a little bit with that early goal, and you feed off that."
Getzlaf tied the score during a 5-on-3 power play. The Predators' Anthony Bitetto went to the penalty box for holding an opponent's stick at 16:15 of the first period. Weber joined him 35 seconds later for cross-checking.
The Ducks' Cam Fowler dragged a wrist shot from the slot that Rinne blocked with his right leg pad. But Getzlaf deposited the rebound inside the right post for his 28th career playoff goal.
Anaheim defenceman Josh Manson left the game with an upper-body injury. Manson's right arm was in a sling in the Ducks' locker room after the game.