ANAHEIM, Calif. — There’s no telling how many times they’ve said it.
Throughout the season, Nashville Predators players and coaches unrelentingly have stressed the need to live in the moment — good or bad.
Now Jerred Smithson has a moment he will want to relive over and over and over. Eventually.
“I was so excited,” the 32-year-old center said. “I’ve never really scored a goal that big in magnitude in my whole life. But, you know, it’s just a goal too. It was a big one that put us in a pretty good position.
“But we still have a lot of work to do.”
His goal at 1:57 of overtime lifted the Nashville Predators to a 4-3 victory on Friday and gave them a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinal series with the Anaheim Ducks.
The first playoff overtime triumph (in four tries) in franchise history also gives them three wins in a postseason series for the first time. That means they have the opportunity to advance beyond the opening round for the first time in six tries beginning with Game 6, 5 p.m. Sunday at Bridgestone Arena.
“Our goal is to take the next steps all the time — not only as a team but as a franchise,” coach Barry Trotz said. “Every team is different, and it will be a different thing for us too. … We just have to keep everything in perspective because there’s some good hockey to be played, and we’ll just be ready. It will be a fun atmosphere.”
Unlike the previous four contests, this was a back-and-forth affair during which the teams traded goals throughout regulation. Nashville defenseman Shea Weber scored the last of those — and forced overtime — when his slap shot found the mark with 35.3 seconds to play in the third period.
“When you get scored on late in the period, you just try to turn the page on it,” Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said. “That is what your mindset is when you are going into the [locker room].”
Weber's goal stunned the standing room only crowd of 17,385 at the Honda Center, which a short time earlier was absolutely jubilant as it reveled in a one-of-a-kind goal by Ducks’ forward Bobby Ryan, one that undoubtedly will be a fixture in highlight reels for years to come.
At the time, Ryan’s unassisted goal 40 seconds into the third period figured to be a game-changing moment. And it was.
It transformed a tight defensive affair into a wide-open one that included four goals and 25 shots (16 by Nashville) in the final 20 minutes of regulation. Through the first two periods, the teams combined for 35 shots on net and two goals.
“It’s funny how the whole series has been back and forth,” goalie Pekka Rinne said. “Even during the game, both teams have ups and downs — it’s been funny how the momentum changes 1,000 times during this series.
“We just stayed resilient.”
The Predators scored first on a goal by Kevin Klein at 8:32 of the first period. When Ryan made it 2-1, it marked the first time in the series that the team that scored first trailed at any point.
Joel Ward answered at 11:20 of the third, with an assist from David Legwand, whose turnover led to Ryan’s goal. Fewer than three minutes later, Jason Blake scored his second of the night for Anaheim and the Predators trailed once again.
“You have to give it to them,” Anaheim goalie Ray Emery said. “They stuck to it. Going into overtime in your own building, you’ll take it. But they make that play and it’s over pretty quickly.”
The overtime featured just three shots — all in the final seven seconds. Jordin Tootoo, who finished with two assists, took the first two before Smithson banged home a Tootoo pass from behind the goal line.
“You have to live in the moment out there,” Totoo said. “When things don’t go your way, you have to let it go. I thought we really did that [Friday] night. We battled through a lot of adversity throughout the year, and I think guys understand those situations.
“It’s great to battle through those and come out on top.”
Once they did, it was a moment unlike any other they’ve ever known.