VANCOUVER, British Columbia — One goal to win the game.
Under normal circumstances, it would have fans on the edge of their seats. In the Western Conference semifinal series between the Nashville Predators and Vancouver Canucks, it seemed like a lot to ask.
It was Matt Halischuk who finally emptied out the sellout crowd of 18,860 at Rogers Arena on Saturday when he ended the longest playoff game in Predators’ history with a shot that beat goalie Roberto Luongo to the glove side. Halischuck’s goal at 14:56 of the second overtime lifted the Predators to a 2-1 victory and evened the series at one game apiece.
“I was just overwhelmed and excited,” Halischuk said. “It’s just a good thing we pulled it out. … I just kind of picked my spot and it was able to go in.”
To this point, the series has been about as offensive as a group of nuns baking sugar free cookies for orphans. Between them the teams have scored three goals in six regulation periods.
Nashville was the second-highest scoring team (based on goals per game) in the conference quarterfinal round but has managed just two goals on 66 shots. Vancouver was the highest-scoring team during the regular season but has just two goals on 63 shots against Pekka Rinne, who was named first star of the game in each of the first two contests.
Halischuk’s goal came on his first shot of the series.
“It was just a great finish,” Jerred Smithson, who was driving to the net and had the best view of it, said. “A lot of credit to our guys for not giving up and for being resilient.
“… We believed in here and found a way to get it done.”
It took 118:53 before the Predators finally got on the board as they set a franchise record for the longest postseason scoreless streak (119:03).
When they did score, it was in a most unconventional manner. Ryan Suter’s feed from the left wing corner got mixed up in the skates of Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo, who effectively kicked it in his own net with 1:07 to play in regulation.
That answered Vancouver’s only goal, which Alexandre Burrows scored shorthanded two minutes into the second period. It also ended Luongo’s personal shutout streak at 126:11.
“It gave us some hope,” Suter said. “If you play hard and you don’t get the results. It can be tough. To get one there, it gave us a little life.
“I was just trying to get it on net and get a whistle. I got a fortunate bounce and it went in.”
The Predators might not have planned on overtime, but they vowed to work much harder than they did in the series opener, a 1-0 loss on Thursday, and they delivered.
Through two periods they had more than twice as many shots as the Canucks (21-10), which was almost a complete reversal of the opener. They racked up 15 more attempts in the third period, and by the end of the first overtime they had matched the franchise playoff record with 43 shots.
In typical fashion, their 46 total were spread throughout the lineup. Nine different players had at least three shots.
That’s not to say that Rinne had it any easier.
He made the save of the night when he leapt to his right and turned away a Kevin Bieksa shot on well-executed two-on-one that had Bieksa wide open at the far post with 2:14 to play in the first overtime. Just over a minute later he stopped Maxim Lapierre, who took advantage of a defensive breakdown and got to the front of the net with the puck.
“There’s not a lot of room out there, and I think you have to give their goalie a lot of credit,” Vancouver Alain Vigneault said. “He made some big saves out there, especially in overtime.”
At this point, it seems certain that both goalies are going to make a lot more before this series is finished, and given Saturday’s result there now exists the possibility that the series could be a long one.
“It was a real character test,” defenseman Shane O’Brien said. “You have to give management and everybody credit here. They’ve built some character guys into this organization. Character at this time of year is something you want in your room.”