Matt Halischuk’s game winner at 14:51 of the second overtime led the Nashville Predators past the Vancouver Canucks 2-1 in Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinal series on Saturday night.
After Pekka Rinne made several highlight-reel saves over the course of two overtime periods, Halischuk placed a top-shelf wrist shot over the outstretched glove of Roberto Luongo to tie the best-of-seven series at 1-1.
Alexandre Burrows opened the scoring for Vancouver and Luongo stopped the first 35 shots he faced before Nashville finally broke through in the dying minutes of the third period.
Just when it appeared the Canucks were headed home with their second-straight 1-0 victory, Nashville tied it with 1:07 remaining in the third, when Ryan Suter’s pass from behind the net deflected in off Luongo’s stick.
Luongo, who shut out the Predators in Game 1, made 44 saves overall, while Rinne turned aside 32 shots for Nashville.
Then with under two minutes remaining in the period, Rinne made a diving stick save, stoning Kevin Bieksa, who was looking at nothing but an open cage after taking a cross-crease pass from Daniel Sedin.
After the acrobatic effort, teammates gave Rinne several appreciative taps on the helmet, while Bieksa displayed a look of pure disbelief after failing to score the winner.
The Canucks outshot Nashville 11-7 in the first overtime, and 7-3 in the second; the only periods of the game in which Vancouver had more attempts than its opponent.
Vancouver, which led the NHL in regular-season scoring, took Game 1 of the series 1-0 on Thursday.
After a scoreless first, the Canucks quickly opened the scoring at 2:00 of the second period on Burrows’ fourth goal of the post-season.
Shorthanded, Burrows took off down the right wing and attempted to send a pass cross crease, but it was blocked by the skate of a Nashville defenceman and ended up right back on his stick, leaving Rinne moving in the opposite direction, and the net open.
Burrows was the hero of Game 7 in round one, when he potted the overtime (and series) winner against Chicago.
Unlike the series opener, when Vancouver outshot Nashville 30-20, the Predators displayed a consistent offensive attack, and outshot the Canucks 21-10 through two periods.
Luongo, who has stopped 107-of-111 shots since the Canucks benched him in favour of backup Cory Schneider in Game 6 of round one, was steady throughout, and may have played his best game of the post-season.
Even though the Canucks failed to outshoot the Predators, they had a plethora of scoring chances in the second, including seven odd-man rushes, as they aptly countered Nashville’s aggressive forecheck.
In the third, Nashville continued to direct a high volume of shots on the Canucks goal, but Luongo was getting square, and swallowing up pucks, leaving the Predators without many second-chance opportunities.
Jordin Tootoo’s breakaway chance with just over eight minutes to play was Nashville’s best chance of the frame, but Luongo was again up to the task, getting enough of his left pad on the puck to deflect it wide.
With Rinne heading towards the bench for the extra attacker, and Canucks fans anticipating a celebration, Suter’s fluke shot found its way across the goal-line, forcing overtime.
Nashville, which recorded its first-ever playoff series victory by eliminating Anaheim in the first round, had outshot Vancouver 36-15 at the end of regulation.
When the evening began, the Canucks looked to be the team who would control the course of play.
Vancouver came out strong in Game 2, dominating most of the early action, while Nashville struggled to find its footing after a lackluster performance in the series opener.
The Predators found most of their first period opportunities in transition, while the top-seeded Canucks showed off their offensive prowess by working an effective puck cycle in the Nashville zone.
Nashville had a glorious scoring chance halfway through the first, when several Predators players failed to connect on a turbulent scramble around the Vancouver crease.
Both goaltenders showed why they were two of the regular-season’s best, making high-quality saves look routine, and keeping the game scoreless after one.
Luongo, Rinne and Boston’s Tim Thomas were recently nominated for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s best goaltender.
Vancouver went 0-for-1 on the power play, while Nashville failed to capitalize on four attempts.
Game 3 takes place at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on Tuesday.
Notes: Chris Higgins scored the lone goal for Vancouver in Game 1 … Defenceman Sami Salo missed his third straight game for Vancouver with a leg injury … Nashville coach Barry Trotz, Vancouver counterpart Alain Vigneault and Pittsburgh skip Dan Bylsma were named as finalists for the Jack Adams Award on Friday for coach of the year … Daniel Sedin leads all Canucks in the playoffs with five goals, while Mike Fisher’s three place him atop the Nashville leader board.