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Kesler's goal downs Predators; Canucks one win from West finals

May 6, 2011 - 6:20 AM
Nashville, TN (Sports Network) - Ryan Kesler may not find much hospitality in the Music City after netting his second game-winner in as many contests at Bridgestone Arena.

Kesler, who in Game 3 provided the difference in overtime, scored a highlight- reel power-play goal at 7:28 of the final stanza Thursday to put the Vancouver Canucks on the brink of the Western Conference finals with a 4-2 win over the Nashville Predators in Game 4.

The Canucks, up 3-1, can clinch the conference semifinal series Saturday on home ice.

Christian Ehrhoff recorded a goal and two assists, and Roberto Luongo got the better of fellow Vezina Trophy finalist Pekka Rinne, stopping 19-of-21 shots and avoiding a late hiccup that sent the previous two games to overtime.

"We have to take it one game at a time. The series is not over. We got to make sure we come ready to play Saturday," Luongo said.

Rinne made 24 saves for Nashville, which got a goal and an assist apiece from Cody Franson and Joel Ward.

Though Ehrhoff had a three-point game, he whiffed on a clearing attempt early in the third period, paving the way for Franson's tying goal from the point, though it took several seconds for the referee to determine the snap shot snuck through Luongo's pads at 3:27 for a 2-2 game.

Rinne made a no-look pad save on Alexandre Burrows a minute later, but had little chance of stopping a streaking Kesler. With Ryan Suter in the penalty box for holding, Kesler cruised into the offensive zone with a full head of steam and caught Nashville on its heels, stick-handling his way between Shea Weber and Shane O'Brien.

Once he got through the defensemen, he beat Rinne with a howitzer from short range and celebrated in front of a stunned crowd, just as he did following his OT winner on Tuesday.

"I just made a move and scored, I freelanced it," said Kesler, who drew the penalty on Suter. "After we got the lead we didn't stop pushing."

Luongo, who gave up tying goals late in the third period in Games 2 and 3, held the Predators off the board the rest of the stanza, and Henrik Sedin's empty-netter with 20.6 seconds remaining sealed yet another narrow victory in this evenly-matched set.

"We're showing a lot of character playing tight games against these guys. We just have to have that one extra gear to bounce back," Rinne said.

The Predators survived a Kevin Klein minor penalty early on, but a heady play by Burrows later in the opening period put the hosts in the hole.

During an unsuccessful rush, Burrows lost the puck and his stick trying to elude a defenseman. As the Sedin brothers -- Henrik and Daniel -- kept the disc in the zone, Burrows recovered his stick and parked himself in front of Rinne, briefly nudging the goaltender as Ehrhoff's wrister from the point found the back of the net at the 15:04 mark.

A delay of game infraction on Canucks defenseman Sami Salo gave Nashville a power play three minutes later. Coming in, the Predators were a combined 0- for-26 with the man advantage in the regular season and playoffs against the Presidents' Trophy winners, but Ward changed the trend by re-directing Franson's point shot and banging in his own rebound with 41.6 seconds showing.

Nashville wasted a golden opportunity to take the lead in the early stages of the middle stanza when Luongo was caught without a stick for an extended period of time. The Predators went offsides during that stretch to waste a possible odd-man rush, then found themselves trailing a short time later.

Ehrhoff did most of the work for the go-ahead goal, fighting for possession behind the net before sending it back to the point. Kesler and Alexander Edler were stationed in an I-formation, and the former tapped it back ever so slightly, leading to Edler's slap shot past a screened Rinne at 9:43.

The Canucks killed off two power plays later in the second, including a 47- second stretch when they were two men down.

"If you don't score on a 5-on-3 you probably don't win the game most times," Nashville head coach Barry Trotz said.

Game Notes

Kesler, who was held without a goal in a seven-game opening round victory over Chicago, also had two assists, as did Henrik Sedin...The Canucks are trying to reach the conference finals for the first time since 1994...Salo had missed the previous four games with a leg injury...Nashville was without forward Steve Sullivan (upper-body injury)...Each team went 1-for-3 on the man advantage.