VANCOUVER — The Nashville Predators will be the opponent when the Vancouver Canucks are forced to play a game they hoped to avoid.
But the team the Canucks don’t want beating them tonight in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinal (CBC, 6 p.m.) is themselves.
Vancouver mistakes, turnovers and bad bounces helped give the Predators a 4-3 victory Saturday that allowed Nashville to stay alive in the playoffs. The Canucks lead the series 3-2, but know they must reduce their errors to avoid a Game 7 back in Vancouver Wednesday.
“We have to make sure that one mistake doesn’t turn into two,” Ryan Kesler said through swollen lips prior to the Canucks boarding an airplane Sunday for the long flight to Nashville.
“It’s a game of mistakes out there. You are going to make mistakes, no one is perfect. For us we have to try and eliminate the mistakes. Make one, not two.”
Kesler lost a tooth and needed stitches to close a gash on his chin after being hit in the face with a puck Saturday. He returned to score his second goal of the night in a losing cause.
The gritty centre has been the best Canuck in the playoffs. He’s scored five goals in the last three games and been a dominating physical force.
Coach Alain Vigneault said he needs more of his players to share the Superman role with Kesler.
“They (Nashville) have had a couple of guys step to the forefront and become heroes of certain games,” said Vigneault.
“We are no different. We need our heroes. We need our guys to step up. I am confident somebody is going to do that for us.”
The Predators return home believing they can still advance to the next round of the playoffs.
“We knew we weren’t going to quit and it’s far from over,” said defenceman Shea Weber. “They’ve got to come out with their best effort next game and we’ve got to be ready.”
The Canucks, who finished the regular season with the best record in the NHL, have dominated the Predators for most of the series. Vancouver has been more physical, fired more shots at Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne, and shut down most of the Predators’ scoring chances.
But the Predators, who finished fifth in the West, are a team that keeps hanging around. They have taken advantage of Canuck mistakes to score goals.
“We have to do a better job of managing the puck,” said forward Raffi Torres. “They capitalized on our mistakes.”
Two of Nashville’s goals Saturday came off breakdowns in the Canucks’ end. A turnover on the power play led to a short-handed goal.
The Predators also got lucky when a shot from behind the net deflected off a Canuck defenceman and past a surprised goaltender Roberto Luongo.
Luongo said the Canucks lost, but they were not beaten.
“It’s more about ourselves than anybody else,” said Luongo. “You look at last night. They didn’t do anything extraordinary or special that made them successful.
“We made mistakes and it cost us. It’s all about us. When we are playing our game, and executing, we usually have good results.”
The Canucks are one win away from advancing to their first conference final since 1994. But a loss against Nashville forces another Game 7 in a series Vancouver easily could have wrapped up earlier.
Vancouver courted disaster in the opening round of the playoffs. The Canucks leaped into a 3-0 lead against the Chicago Blackhawks, then needed an overtime goal in Game 7 to finally finish off the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Luongo shrugged when asked if the Canucks learned anything from the Chicago series.
“What more do you want to learn?” said Luongo. “We should know now what it takes.
“When a team has their back up against a wall, that’s when they are going to be playing their best hockey of the season. For us to win that game we have to have that same desperation level.”
There was a sense of panic among Canuck fans when the Blackhawks showed renewed signs of life. Part of that angst came from Chicago knocking Vancouver out of the playoffs the previous two years.
The Nashville series hasn’t generated the same emotion. But the Canucks can expect a long, hot summer if the Predators manage to defeat the best team in Vancouver franchise history.
The most frequently asked question around Vancouver is what has happened to Daniel and Henrik Sedin?
Daniel Sedin won the regular-season scoring title with 104 points, including a career-high 41 goals, and is a finalist for league MVP. Yet he has gone six playoff games without a goal.
Twin brother Henrik, last year’s scoring champion and league MVP, has just one goal in the playoffs and that was into an empty net. The Canuck captain has two assists in the last six games, and they both came in one night.
The brothers are also minus-7 each.
Daniel Sedin said the brothers have to play better.
“Yesterday was one of those games that hurt us,” he said. “In the playoffs you have to bounce back and try to play better the next game.”
Vigneault hasn’t lost his confidence in the twins.
“I am supporting them 100 per cent,” he said.
“They are working every shift. Every time they are on the ice they are trying to do the right things and play the right way. I am very confident the points are going to come.”
There has been speculation that Henrik Sedin is playing with an injury. On Sunday Henrik again said he’s healthy.
The Canucks won’t have forward Mikael Samuelsson in the lineup for Game 6. He looked to hurt his knee after being tangled up with Nick Spaling on Saturday night and didn’t make the trip to Nashville.