Canucks cash in behind play of second line led by Kesler

Wednesday, May 4, 2011 at 2:55am

Sooner or later, Ryan Kesler was going to score a goal.

Tuesday, he did both — sooner and later — which was a major reason the Nashville Predators lost 3-2 in overtime to the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday and fell behind 2-1 in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series.

Kesler’s late goal, at 10:45 of overtime, ended the contest and was his second of the night. He also scored earlier, one minute into the second period, and tied the game 1-1.

They were the first two goals of the postseason for the 26-year-old center, who finished the regular season tied for the Vancouver team lead with 41.

“It was finally good to get one,” Kesler said. “It has been a couple of games but I was trying to focus on doing the right things. I really didn’t change anything [Tuesday] night; it was just me going out there and trying to work hard and do the right things.”

Kesler is the center on the Canucks’ second line.

In the first two games of the series, he played with Alexandre Burrows and Mason Raymond. Vancouver shuffled its forward units for Game 3, though, and Chris Higgins, who also had a goal (Kesler had an assist), was at left wing in place of Burrows.

“I thought that whole line was really strong,” Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. “I think Chris Higgins played one of his best games. … They had some quality chances, they competed real hard and that’s what we expect from them.”

In the conference quarterfinals, the Predators gave up six goals to second-line forward Teemu Selanne.

Kesler scored the game-winning goal when he got to the front of the net and deflected a Mikael Samuelsson shot between the pads of goalie Pekka Rinne.

“I don’t know if he got a piece of it or not,” Rinne said. “It just came behind traffic and found a way into the net.”

Dwindling numbers: The Predators lost Steve Sullivan to a lower body injury late in the third period. It was all he could do to make it to the bench with 3:15 left in regulation.

Trotz said the initial diagnosis is that the veteran left wing is day-to-day, but that a more comprehensive examination will take place Wednesday morning.

Sullivan’s departure came at about the same time Nashville was temporarily without two other forwards.

“I didn’t have Steve Sullivan, I didn’t have [Mike] Fisher, I didn’t have [David Legwand],” Trotz said. “So we were making it up as we went along. [Fisher and Legwand] went out with equipment problems. So we were quite lean for about a five- or six-minute period there.”

Back in town: Dan Hamhuis finally played a game at Bridgestone Arena as a member of the opposing team.

The Predators’ 2001 first-round draft pick signed with the Canucks as a free agent during the offseason. He was out of both regular-season contests between Nashville and Vancouver at Bridgestone because of injuries (Feb. 17 and March 29).

He was one of three Canucks’ defensemen who played more than 23 minutes (23:07). In that time, he recorded two shots, blocked two shots, delivered two hits and had one takeaway and one giveaway.

At the top: Joel Ward’s goal with 6:42 to play in regulation did more than just tie the score 2-2. It tied him with Martin Erat and J-P Dumont for the most goals by a Nashville player in a single postseason.

It was Ward’s team-leading fourth goal of the playoffs and gave him a point in seven of his team’s nine playoff games.

“The puck just came off the goalie’s stick,” Ward said. “… I tried a little wrap, and it was fortunate to go in.”

Dumont had four goals in five games against San Jose in 2007, and Erat had four in six games against Chicago last year.

Shorthanded master: Legwand’s shorthanded goal, which gave Nashville a 1-0 lead at 10:18 of the first period, was Nashville’s first of the postseason and fifth all-time in playoff games.

He also had the first shorthanded goal in Predators’ playoff history (April 11, 2004, against Detroit), which made him the only player with two shorthanded postseason goals for Nashville.