The Nashville Predators are one win away from the first Stanley Cup Final appearance in franchise history after a 3-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final on Saturday.
Pontus Aberg played the role of hero for the visiting Predators with a third-period goal that put his team up 2-1 with 8:59 to play. Austin Watson added an empty-net goal in the final minute to ensure Nashville a 3-2 series lead.
The Unlikely Hero
With the Predators and Ducks deadlocked 1-1 in the third period and both goalies playing at their best, another overtime contest looked to be in the cards.
Aberg, who had one goal in 15 games during the regular season, scored his first of the Stanley Cup playoffs with just under nine minutes remaining in regulation on a rebound from Filip Forsberg, as Sportsnet illustrated:
Pontus Aberg nets the rebound mid-fall to give the Preds a 2-1 lead. #StanleyCup https://t.co/UkHhtyFt1H2017-5-21 01:45:55
The 23-year-old Aberg, who has mostly been an anonymous figure throughout these playoffs, earned a hearty round of applause from social media:
Jared Stillman @JaredStillman
Wow. Pontus Aberg. Gotta be honest I never saw that coming. Congrats to @EmployeeJosh who called it.2017-5-21 01:44:28
Joe Yerdon @JoeYerdon
Pontus Aberg. Just as we all suspected.2017-5-21 01:44:21
Brooks Bratten @brooksbratten
Congrats to Pontus Aberg on tallying his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal. #Preds https://t.co/Ixh0sSkLqN2017-5-21 01:43:14
Joe Rexrode @joerexrode
A media member who shall remain nameless has been saying tonight that Pontus Aberg will never score. In your face, anonymous person.2017-5-21 01:43:01
The Return of Colin Wilson
Coming into Game 5, the biggest question for the Predators was how their offense would fare without center Ryan Johansen. The 24-year-old, who led the team with 13 points in 14 playoff games, was diagnosed with acute compartment syndrome Saturday and will miss the rest of the postseason, per NHL Network's Jon Morosi.
It took nearly 40 minutes for Nashville to get on the board before Colin Wilson broke through on a power play to tie the score 1-1 just before the second intermission, as the Predators showed:
Nashville Predators @PredsNHL
No-look backhand goal: ✅ #Preds #NSHvsANA https://t.co/MO2ujPNvD92017-5-21 01:16:36
The internet was quick to point out the return of "Playoff Colin Wilson" after he got the Predators' scoring started:
Chase McCabe @ChaseOnGame
Ladies and gentleman... Playoff Colin Wilson has arrived. #preds tie it 1-12017-5-21 01:02:34
Brooks Bratten @brooksbratten
Colin Wilson is now tied with Filip Forsberg, James Neal, Shea Weber and David Legwand for most playoff goals in #Preds history with 13.2017-5-21 01:06:24
🚨Welcome back, Playoff Colin Wilson! We have a tie game! https://t.co/szcRJM4JLI2017-5-21 01:02:48
It was Wilson's second playoff goal this season and first since Nashville's first game against the St. Louis Blues on April 26.
Rinne Still a Brick Wall
While the Predators were waiting for their offense to find ways to break through, goalie Pekka Rinne continued to be fantastic in these playoffs.
Rinne entered Saturday's contest with a 1.66 goals-against average in 14 playoff games. The Ducks found ways to get to him in their two wins this series, scoring eight combined goals, but he turned into a stone wall after Chris Wagner put Anaheim up 1-0 in the second period.
The 34-year-old Rinne stopped 32 of the 33 shots he faced in Game 5, his second straight contest with at least 30 saves.
The internet reacted appropriately to what Rinne did against the Ducks:
Bucci Mane @Buccigross
Massive effort from Rinne tonight. Nashville plays for a Stanley Cup Final appearance Monday night. Bring back @carrieunderwood for anthem2017-5-21 02:04:49
Puck Podcast @PuckPodcast
Ducks have been the better team in the 3rd but......Pekka Rinne. - Eddie https://t.co/20s1rckRCT2017-5-21 01:38:59
Dana Sulonen @DanaSulonen
After his performance tonight, everyone in Nashville will look at Pekka Rinne like this https://t.co/7EeUGrYoPp2017-5-21 02:05:48
There has been a clear pattern developing in this series, with the Predators winning the odd-numbered games and Ducks winning the even-numbered matchups.
The series moves back to Nashville on Monday, when the Predators will look to close things out. They won each of their first two playoff series against the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks at home.
The Ducks often looked like the more aggressive team in Game 5 but were unable to figure out Rinne. They already played one Game 7 in this postseason, defeating the Edmonton Oilers 2-1 in the Western Conference semifinal, and they will need to force another if they want to keep their season alive.