Barry Trotz called it a “game-changing type of save” by Roberto Luongo.
Actually, when the Vancouver Canucks goalie threw his legs in the air to his left and stopped a shot by Colin Wilson in the midst of a scrambled play around the Canucks’ net, he helped guarantee that this contest would be no different than a lot of others the 2011 Western Conference champions had played recently.
At that time, roughly 9:30 to play in the second period, the Nashville Predators already had overcome a two-goal deficit and pulled even. They were near the end of a power play, and that save in particular kept the score right where it was and where it stayed all the way through the end of regulation.
So it was, that a highly anticipated matchup — the Canucks’ first visit to Bridgestone Arena since last season’s playoffs — turned into just another game for Vancouver, which had gone to overtime in each of its previous four games and seven of its previous nine. In a shootout that featured six skaters aside, the Predators finally fell 4-3 before a disappointed crowd of 16,232.
“I like the character that we showed against a very good team,” Trotz, the Nashville coach, said. “They’re the [reigning] Western Conference champions. They’re a good hockey team.
“I thought our second period we were outstanding. We had loads of chances and — really — that huge, almost game-changing type of save by Luongo … we’ll take the point. There’s no disgrace in that.”
Sergei Kostitsyn and Mike Fisher got it even when they scored 62 seconds apart in the second, the latter just 5:16 into the period. That answered a pair of goals by Vancouver’s Byron Bitz and Daniel Sedin 23 seconds apart in the closing minutes of the first that made it 3-1.
Neither team scored the rest of the way but Nashville finished with a 40-31 advantage in shots and a 4-1 edge in power play opportunities.
“They scored two shifts in a row — that had us hurting,” Nashville right wing Patric Hornqvist said. “We talked before the second period and said, ‘Keep going, we’re going good.’ … Then we scored almost two shifts in a row.
“For 60 minutes, I’m pretty sure that we were the better team, but they battled hard.”
Not only that, but the Canucks, who moved within a point of Detroit for the top spot in the West, are accustomed to playing more than 60 minutes.
In all, 16 of their 53 contests have gone beyond regulation. Since Jan. 10, they have won four of six shootouts and have gone 2-0 during the four-on-four overtime period.
David Legwand managed to extend this shootout when, in a do-or-die situation as Nashville’s third shooter, he beat Luongo with his trademark move. Fisher, Ryan Ellis and Colin Wilson all came up empty in his wake, though, and Vancouver’s sixth skater, Alexander Edler, scored the decisive goal against Pekka Rinne.
“We’re obviously not a team that gives up, and we expected a close game with these guys,” Vancouver center Ryan Kesler said. “We’ve been in a lot of overtime games and shootout games lately. So we’re accustomed to this now and we’re getting on the right end of these, so we must be doing something right.”
Nashville had won three straight shootouts but had not been in one since Dec. 30.
In five tries at the tiebreaking procedure this season, the Predators have yet to convert more than once. The difference this time that once was not enough.
“It’s a goalie against the shooter and we both have a chance,” Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne said. “But I wasn’t happy with those two goals I gave up.”
• With the loss, Rinne’s franchise-record 11 game win streak came to an end. He fell to 0-2 for the season against the Canucks and lost for the third straight time against them in regular-season contests.
“I haven’t been great against them this year, so it was a disappointing loss again,” he said.
• Kostitsyn’s goal, his ninth in the last 16 games, went in off his right skate and was made official only after a video review. Trotz said he never doubted the validity of the play.
“If they had called that back, I probably would’ve had a heart attack right there,” the coach said.
• Fisher’s goal was his 16th of the season and gave him sole possession of the team lead.