Smithson bulls eyes Ducks in OT

Jerred Smithson scored 1:57 into overtime, and the Nashville Predators moved to the brink of winning a playoff series for the first time, beating the Anaheim Ducks 4-3 on Friday night to take a 3-2 series lead.

Anaheim Duck Teemu Selanne

Anaheim Duck Teemu Selanne

Predators 4 Ducks 3 (OT)

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Jerred Smithson scored 1:57 into overtime, and the Nashville Predators moved to the brink of winning a playoff series for the first time, beating the Anaheim Ducks 4-3 on Friday night to take a 3-2 series lead.

Captain Shea Weber tied it on a long slap shot with 35.3 seconds left for the Predators, who had never even won three games in a series before their dramatic comeback stunned the Ducks.

The Predators can close it out in Game 6 on Sunday in Nashville.

Both teams scored two goals apiece in a thrilling third period, with Anaheim blowing two leads. Bobby Ryan scored a spectacular goal early in the third in his return from a two-game suspension, but Joel Ward tied it with 8:40 left in regulation.

Jason Blake put Anaheim ahead on his second goal with 5:44 left, and Ray Emery made 33 saves for the Ducks, who couldn’t hang onto their late leads against a team with a long history of blowing such advantages.

Defenceman Kevin Klein scored his first career playoff goal and Pekka Rinne made 23 saves for the Predators, who had never won an overtime game or a Game 5 in their brief playoff history.

Nashville even managed to reverse its ugly fate in Game 5 against Chicago last season, when the Predators gave up a tying goal with 13.6 seconds left in regulation before losing the game — and the series one game later.

Ryan returned to Anaheim’s lineup after sitting out the Ducks’ trip to Nashville for stomping on Jonathan Blum’s skate during Ryan’s two-goal performance in Game 2.

In the opening minute of the third period, Ryan scored perhaps the most beautiful goal of the post-season to date after picking off David Legwand’s pass at the blue line.

Ryan’s first deke forced Legwand to drop his stick, and he completely ditched Legwand with a graceful second move before coolly backhanding the puck past Rinne.

But the Predators abandoned their usual defensive caution, and Ward capitalized on a pinball rebound of his own wild shot off the glass behind Emery, scoring his third goal of the series.

Blake then put the Ducks ahead with a remarkable assist from Teemu Selanne, the 40-year-old superstar who scored a goal in each of the series’ first four games. Selanne somehow threw the puck at Rinne while prone on the ice behind the Nashville net, and the rebound caromed straight to Blake, who beat Rinne with a perfectly placed shot.

The Predators pulled Rinne in the final minute, and Mike Fisher won a faceoff before Weber wired a shot through a crowd in front for his third goal of the series.

With Honda Center still uneasy after Weber’s tying goal, Smithson scored on a quick shot after Jordin Tootoo’s pass from behind the net. Tootoo, the Predators’ agitating forward, had two key assists.

Fourth-seeded Anaheim and fifth-seeded Nashville split two-game sets in both buildings to open an increasingly bad-tempered series. After giving up 14 goals in the last three games, Nashville finally clamped down defensively in Game 5, limiting the chances for NHL playoff scoring leader Corey Perry and his high-flying teammates.

Nashville played without 50-point scorer Martin Erat, who stayed home after exiting Game 4 with an upper-body injury from a hit by Anaheim’s Jarkko Ruutu. The Ducks were infuriated by Ruutu’s one-game suspension for what they insist was a perfectly legal hit, but Ruutu is at best a depth player who appeared in just two of the series’ first four games.

NOTES: Earlier in the day, Rinne was selected a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goalie, an honour that surprised nobody after the six-foot-five Finn’s 33-win season with top-five statistics in many categories. … Nashville LW Nick Spaling picked up his first career playoff point with an assist on the first-period goal by Klein, who had just two goals in 81 regular-season games. … RW J.P. Dumont replaced Erat in the Predators’ lineup, playing sparingly in his first game of the series.