NASHVILLE – With their season on the brink Monday night, the Ducks brought the best Game 6 they've played in many years. The same empty feeling of one without a Stanley Cup still couldn't be avoided.
This one culminated in the Western Conference finals for the second time in three years. The unheralded Colton Sissons gave Nashville the game of his life with a hat trick, including a tiebreaking score in the third period that lifted the Predators into the Stanley Cup Final with a 6-3 win.
Filip Forsberg and Austin Watson followed with goals into an empty net and a yellow-clad Bridgestone Arena exploded in celebration for the Predators' first crack at a championship since entering into the NHL in 1998.
The Ducks didn't hand Game 6 to them. They were facing elimination this time instead of trying to close a team out in one, with a victory needed to force a Game 7 on Wednesday in Anaheim, Calif. And the effort to make it possible was apparent from the first puck drop.
Their comeback ability in this postseason resurfaced in the third period when Chris Wagner and Cam Fowler scored goals less than four minutes apart to create a 3-3 tie. Both teams played without critical personnel, but it was the Predators' depth that shined through.
Goaltender John Gibson was unable to start Game 6 because of a lower-body injury, which had the Ducks turning to Jonathan Bernier. Bernier went 13-2-2 to end a strong comeback season but his first playoff start was a shaky one. And Nashville, which was outplayed much of the game, took advantage.
Sissons broke the tie with six minutes left. The winger got open on the left side of the ice and hammered in a one-time shot past Bernier off a cross-ice pass from Predators forward Calle Jarnkrok. And the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl was soon theirs – to not touch, as has become custom.
These Ducks didn't go down meekly in Game 6. And they were going up against a familiar foe in Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne. His best eliminated them in Game 7 last season, a 36-save effort in a 2-1 win that sent Nashville to the second round.
It was apparent that the Finnish star would be on his game to open this one. Right away, Rinne slid his lanky, imposing 6-foot-5 frame across the crease to his right and made a save on the Ducks' Andrew Cogliano as the winger momentarily had an open net.
The Ducks were pressing from the outset but Bernier couldn't deliver the necessary early saves at his end. Watson threw a puck from the right circle that became Nashville's first shot of the game. It hit off Brandon Montour's stick and got past the goalie for a 1-0 Predators lead.
Just two shots later, Nashville had a two-goal lead. Sissons, one of several Predators playing higher in the lineup due to their injuries, got a perfect pass off the rush from Pontus Aberg and beat Bernier clean. And it appeared the Ducks' worst fears were being realized.
Nick Ritchie didn't help his team's cause any. The winger's decision to check Viktor Arvidsson into the boards from behind got him a five-minute major penalty for boarding and a game misconduct. The Predators suddenly had five minutes to deliver the kill shot.
It never came. In fact, Nashville didn't have any shots on it and the Ducks took their sliver of light into the second and opened it wider. Ondrej Kase started their latest series of comebacks with a one-timer goal from Ryan Getzlaf to make it 2-1.