Hockey

Neal nets OT winner as Predators defeat weary Ducks

James Neal scored the game-winner in overtime as the well-rested Nashville Predators sneaked past the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 in overtime in the opening game of the Western Conference final.

James Neal (L) and P.K. Subban celebrate Neal's winning overtime goal for the Nashville Predators as they beat the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center arena
James Neal (L) and P.K. Subban celebrate Neal's winning overtime goal for the Nashville Predators as they beat the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center arena (GETTY IMAGES/AFP)

James Neal scored the game-winner in overtime as the well-rested Nashville Predators sneaked past the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 in overtime in the opening game of the Western Conference final.

Neal one-timed a shot through a maze of players as the Predators won game one on the road in their first appearance in franchise history in the NHL semi-finals.

Defenseman P.K. Subban faked a shot from the left point before sliding the puck over to Neal, who wasted no time blasting a slapshot that deflected off Anaheim forward Corey Perry into the net.

"We got it in their zone and were working it around. Subby (Subban) made a great fake and then got it over to me," said Neal of his fourth goal of the postseason.

Having vanquished some game seven demons by eliminating the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday, the Ducks had just one day to recoup and get ready to play the Predators.

By contrast Nashville wrapped up their NHL quarter-final series early and came into game one of the semi-finals at the Honda Center arena after four days rest.

"We definitely wanted to jump on them right away," said Canadian Neal. "They only had a day of rest and we were fresh.

"It is going to be a battle every night and we are fighting for a chance to play for the Stanley Cup so everyone in our room is going to do whatever it takes."

Austin Watson and Filip Forsberg scored goals for Nashville in regulation and Pekka Rinne, of Finland, made 27 saves.

Anaheim received goals from Sweden's Jakob Silfverberg and Hampus Lindholm in regulation and John Gibson stopped 43 Nashville shots.

Game two of the best-of-seven series is scheduled to be played at Honda Center on Sunday.

Anaheim took a 1-0 lead on Silfverberg's unassisted goal, his eighth of the playoffs, at 5:15 of the opening period.

Nashville tied the score 1-1 on Forsberg's third goal of the playoffs at 12:34 of the first.

American Watson scored early in the second to give the Predators their first lead of the game but then Anaheim defenseman Hampus Lindholm tied it 2-2 with a wrist shot from the left point that glanced off the post and in.

Neal is confident the Predators' journey through the post season prepared them well for the Ducks.

Neal said they knew going in that this would be a physical series so they tried to match Anaheim's toughness on Friday with their own.

Physical series

"It is going to be physical all over ice," said Neal, who drove Anaheim defenseman Brandon Montour's head into the side boards just moments before scoring the game winner.

"Getting to the net is going to be hard, but we feel like we can play any type of game. If they want to be physical we can be physical. If they want to play with speed, we can do that to. We got a well rounded group."

The Predators also held Anaheim star forward Ryan Getzlaf off the scoresheet Friday.

Getzlaf, who is among the favorites to win the Conn Smythe playoff MVP trophy should the Ducks keep going, is the first player in franchise history to score eight goals through the first 11 games playoff games.

Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said the rest paid off for the Predators.

"It did in the first period, for sure. They dominated us and we didn’t move our feet," Carlyle said.