Canucks beat Preds, take 3-1 series lead

Ryan Kesler scored the winning goal for the second-straight game as the Vancouver Canucks defeated the Nashville Predators 4-2 in Game 4 of their Western Conference semifinal series on Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena.

Christian Ehrhoff, Alexander Edler and Henrik Sedin also scored for Vancouver, which became the first team in the series to win a game by a two-goal margin.

Cody Franson and Joel Ward scored for Nashville, which will now head back to Vancouver trailing 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.

Roberto Luongo made 19 saves for the top-seeded Canucks, while Pekka Rinne turned aside 24 shots for the Predators.

BOXSCORE

After being outplayed through two periods, but only trailing by one, Nashville tied the game 2-2 at 3:27 of the third. Franson’s shot from the point had eyes and saw its way through an aggregation of legs and ultimately between Luongo’s pads.

Kesler, who scored two goals in Game 3, including the OT winner, quickly quieted the celebration, eluding two Nashville defenders on his way to the net and beating Rinne with a laser-like wrist shot at 7:28 of the third to retake the lead.

Trailing 3-2, Rinne did his best to keep his team alive in the late stages, stoning Daniel Sedin on a 2-on-1 break but Nashville ultimately failed to score the equalizer.

His twin brother Henrik added an empty-net goal at 19:39 to seal the win for Vancouver.

With the victory, the Canucks can clinch the series, and their first appearance in the conference finals since 1994, with a win on home ice in Game 5.

Nashville began the first period with a determined forecheck that pinned Vancouver back in its own end for most of the opening minutes of play, until the Predators were handed the game’s first penalty, relieving the pressure on the Canucks.

The man advantage sparked a momentum shift, as Vancouver began accumulating scoring opportunities – Raffi Torres nearly found the net with a backhand from just outside the crease but missed just north of the crossbar.

Vancouver opened the scoring at 15:04 of the first, when Ehrhoff beat Rinne blocker side with a brilliantly positioned wrist shot. After the goal, Rinne argued with the officials that Alexandre Burrows, who provided a blinding screen in front of the net, had interfered but both players were outside the crease and the goal stood.

With 42 seconds remaining until intermission, the Predators tied the game 1-1 on Ward’s power-play goal. After Sami Salo took a delay-of-game penalty for Vancouver, Ward parked himself in front and chipped home the rebound off Franson’s point shot.

Prior to Thursday’s matchup, only a single first-period goal had been scored in the first three games of the series.

Vancouver outshot Nashville 11-6 in the opening frame.

In the second period, Vancouver continued to control the action, firing all it could muster towards Rinne but the Predators had the period’s first great scoring chance.

With thirteen minutes remaining in the period, just after the expiration of Shane O’Brien’s high-sticking penalty, Patric Hornqvist had a tremendous opportunity but couldn’t capitalize with a lose puck in Luongo’s crease and the netminder down and stick-less.

Breaking the 1-1 tie was Edler, at 9:43 of the second, sending a low slapshot from the blue line through a congestion of bodies.

A 5-on-3 power play for Nashville failed to ignite its listless offence and their dearth of shots on goal spelled the Predators struggles through two periods.

Nashville failed to produce double-digit shots for the second-straight period and trailed 21-13 in attempts heading into the final 20 minutes.

Vancouver went 1-for-3 on the power play, while Nashville scored on one of its two chances with the man advantage.

Game 5 takes place on Saturday night in Vancouver.

Notes: Nashville coach Barry Trotz announced Thursday that forward Steve Sullivan, who suffered an upper-body injury in Game 3, will likely be out for the remainder of the series … Salo, who had not played since Game 6 of the opening round due to a lower-body injury, returned for Vancouver … Keith Ballard was a healthy scratch for the Canucks.