ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Pontus Aberg scored his first career playoff goal with 8:59 to play, and the Nashville Predators moved to the brink of their first Stanley Cup Final with a 3-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals Saturday night.
Aberg scored on a rebound of Filip Forsberg’s shot for the Predators, who took a 3-2 series lead despite the injury absence of top scorer Ryan Johansen and captain Mike Fisher.
Pekka Rinne made 32 saves in the Finnish goalie’s latest dominant playoff performance in Anaheim, where the Predators have won five of their last seven playoff games over two seasons.
Chris Wagner scored for the Ducks, who lost starting goalie John Gibson to injury during the first intermission.
Game 6 is Monday night in Nashville.
Jonathan Bernier took over and stopped 16 shots in his first appearance in nearly two weeks for the Ducks, who already were without 30-goal scorers Rickard Rakell and Patrick Eaves before losing Gibson to a lower-body injury.
Anaheim was knocked out of the playoffs last year by Nashville, and the Ducks are facing their second elimination game of the postseason after winning Game 7 against Edmonton in the second round.
The Predators still haven’t lost back-to-back games at any point in what’s looking like a charmed playoff run for an 18-season-old franchise that’s finally one game from playing for the Stanley Cup.
After Colin Wilson scored the tying power-play goal late in the second period for the Predators, Aberg went flying when he stretched out to guide home Forsberg’s rebound for the tiebreaker.
The 23-year-old Swede has only one goal in his 15 games of regular-season NHL experience, but Nashville’s injuries thrust him into a key role alongside Forsberg on its top line.
Austin Watson added an empty-net goal in the final minute, emphatically ending Anaheim’s streak of seven consecutive Game 5 victories at home since 2011. The last team to beat the Ducks in a Game 5 at Honda Center also was Nashville.
Aberg and several other role players all came up big in the Predators’ first game of the season without Johansen, their top-line center and leading postseason scorer. Johansen had emergency surgery shortly after Game 4 and was ruled out for the rest of the playoffs.
Fisher missed his first game of his scoreless postseason with an undisclosed injury after taking a hit to the head in Game 4.
The Ducks also were hurting without Rakell, a surprise omission due to a lower-body injury, and Eaves, who missed his ninth straight game. The duo combined for 65 regular-season goals.
The Ducks won Game 4 against Nashville in overtime and controlled long stretches of play in Game 5, but their depleted forwards repeatedly struggled to finish strong sequences against Rinne, who has beaten Anaheim in two previous playoff series.
When Gibson failed to return for the second period, Bernier was abruptly sent into the fourth playoff game of his NHL career, and he immediately made a handful of strong stops. Wagner then put the Ducks ahead by cleaning up a rebound of a shot by dynamic young defenseman Brandon Montour.
Nashville got a power play shortly before the second intermission when Josh Manson was whistled for cross-checking Filip Forsberg, who got away with an unpenalized stick to Manson’s mouth moments earlier. Wilson made the Ducks pay, slipping a difficult backhand around Bernier for his second goal of the playoffs and the 13th of his Predators postseason career, tying four other Preds for the franchise lead.
NOTES: C Frederick Gaudreau made his Stanley Cup playoff debut for Nashville, and veteran C Vern Fiddler returned from a two-game absence. F Miikka Salomaki also returned from five games off. … F Nic Kerdiles made his third appearance of the postseason for Anaheim in Rakell’s absence. Coach Randy Carlyle hadn’t indicated before pregame warmups that Rakell might miss a game. … Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler, Andrew Cogliano and Antoine Vermette have all scored just one goal apiece over the Ducks’ 16 playoff games.