The Ducks were sitting back and being too cautious as they tried to protect a one-goal lead, allowing the Nashville Predators to come at them in crashing waves of gold jerseys. Inspired by a crowd whose cheers scaled new decibel levels at Bridgestone Arena, the Predators took 12 of the first 13 shots in the second period Thursday and appeared poised to ride those heady emotions to a series-defining victory.
“The place was buzzing, hey?” Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf said.
He could laugh about it later because the Ducks bent but didn't break under the force of the Predators' frantic push. Backed by a second straight outstanding performance by goaltender Frederik Andersen and a perfect penalty-killing effort, the Ducks carved out a 4-1 victory that tied the teams' first-round series at two games each. They'll play Game 5 Saturday at Honda Center.
“We did it the hard way,” winger Chris Stewart said, “but hopefully we can clean that up and close this thing out.”
They've done everything the hard way this season, so it seemed perfectly logical they'd go that route again.
From the off-season moves that never clicked to the 1-7-2 start that nearly derailed them and through the goal famine that darkened their December, the Ducks have had to battle for every bit of progress they've made. They were short-handed the second-most times of any team during the season — 290 — and became the NHL's most efficient penalty-killing team. That has carried over to the playoffs, where they've neutralized 18 of Nashville's 19 advantages.
And with Corey Perry mostly invisible so far, they've come up with other ways to score. The line of Jamie McGinn, center Shawn Horcoff and Stewart came through for a second straight game and center-turned-left wing Nate Thompson scored what held up as the winner at 17:04 of the second period, when he took a pass from Rickard Rakell and patiently waited before slipping the puck past goalie Pekka Rinne's pad while the teams were skating four-on-four.
“When you go through hard times like we did at the start of the year, we do it together. You have an ability to look around the room and have confidence in each other even when you're in tough times,” said Getzlaf, who scored 62 seconds into the game when he finished off a rare four-on-two break. “We got ourselves back in the series. That's what we accomplished here.”
Asked why they've been able to overcome adversity again and turn this series into a best-of-three, Thompson shrugged. “Probably because we dealt with it all year and we're kind of used to it,” he said. “It just shows a lot of character in this room. We know what we're capable of.”
Their poise saved them during that second-period surge by Nashville. Mike Fisher scored from the doorstep off a pass from Colin Wilson to make it 1-1 at 11:26, but the damage could have been far worse.
Andersen is not a melancholy Dane, but he is a calm one.
“We just keep focused on everyone doing their job,” said Andersen, who made 30 saves Thursday and has stopped 57 of 58 shots since he took over the starting job from John Gibson in Game 3. “It's a lot of fun those times in the games. Just enjoy and embrace the challenge.”
And brace for a lot of shots, though his teammates helped immensely by blocking 25 others. “We want to defend first. That's how we won hockey games all year, is defense,” Thompson said. “I think you could see the commitment through all the guys tonight. ... Everyone was paying a price and you could see that and we have to continue to do that.”
McGinn padded the lead to 3-1 at 18:56 of the second period when he batted an airborne puck past Rinne. Andrew Cogliano sent fans streaming out the doors when he scored at 16:52 of the third period, on an assist from Jakob Silfverberg.
“There were parts of that game where we were playing good and the crowd was in it and we were feeling good about our game,” Fisher said. “They came back, responded with some quick goals, and we couldn't find a way to break through there in the third period. That was the difference.”
Because the Ducks again found a way to play their best when the situation seemed to be at its worst they've climbed back into a series that appeared to be slipping away.
“We didn't have our best first two games and I thought we were a lot better these last two, but we still have a lot of work to do,” Thompson said. “There's still a lot of series left, so we have to make sure we get even better the next day.”