NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Ryan Kesler seems to be trying to carry the Vancouver Canucks into the Western Conference finals almost singlehandedly.
Kesler broke a tie with a power-play goal at 7:28 of the third period for his second straight game-winner, and the Canucks beat the Nashville Predators 4-2 Thursday night to grab a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Kesler now has six points in helping the Canucks win both games in Nashville.
"Right now, he's their best player bar none," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said.
Kesler's game-winning goals have come on power plays he set up by drawing penalties.
He won Game 3 in overtime after drawing a hooking penalty on Weber. This time, Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter was called for holding after he put an arm around Kesler's neck and took him down, and he celebrated his clinching goal by putting both arms up in the air.
"It was a great breakout on the power play," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "It was an amazing goal by a player whose will to win right now is very strong, and he is competing very hard."
Now the Canucks return home for Game 5 on Saturday night with a chance to clinch, which is what they set out to do when they flew to Nashville last Sunday.
"Absolutely, that's why we came here," Canucks left wing Daniel Sedin said. "Every game has been close, but I think we had the upper hand in shots and scoring chances, too, so we feel good about ourselves."
Christian Ehrhoff scored a power-play goal and had two assists, Kesler also had two assists, and Alexander Edler had a goal. Henrik Sedin notched his first points in the series with two assists and an empty-net goal with 20.6 seconds left.
Joel Ward and Cody Franson each had a goal and an assist for Nashville, which lost consecutive games for the first time this postseason. The Predators have not won when facing elimination in five previous playoff appearances.
"It's a tough position to put ourselves in, but it's definitely not over by any means," Nashville captain Shea Weber said.
If the Predators want a chance to rally, they need to shoot more. Vancouver outshot them for a second straight game and third time in this series, 28-21, and the Canucks also killed off 47 seconds of a 5-on-3 in the second period trailing 2-1.
Trotz took a timeout before the 5-on-3 started, but it didn't help that his Predators wouldn't attack Roberto Luongo by throwing more pucks at him.
"We refused to do that," Trotz said.
The Predators also missed another key scoring chance earlier in the second. Luongo lost his stick after stopping a flurry at the net. Nashville finally got the puck only to be called for offsides at 8:40 of the second, giving Luongo a break to grab his stick in the far corner. The Canucks came right back and went up 2-1 when Edler ripped a slap shot from near the blue line through traffic past Pekka Rinne at 9:43.
Ehrhoff put Vancouver up 1-0, scoring with 4:56 left in the first, but Nashville tied it with its first power-play goal this series. Franson fired a shot that Luongo blocked with his pad, and Ward wristed it through the goalie's legs with 41.6 seconds left.
Franson tied it at 3:27 of the third, snapping a shot cleanly through Luongo's legs for his first goal this postseason. The lead didn't stand long.
Four of the Canucks' past five games have gone to overtime, and they've been accused of resting with one-goal leads. Not this time, as they won by their biggest margin since opening the postseason with a 2-0 win over Chicago.
"We knew after we gave up that second goal that we had to push," Kesler said. "After we got the lead, we didn't stop pushing. That was a good sign."
Notes: The Canucks improved to 4-3 in Game 4s in the second round on the road. ... Canucks D Sami Salo returned after missing the past four postseason games with an undisclosed injury. He played 16:45. ... Ward has at least a point in eight of Nashville's 10 games this postseason. ... Nashville F Jerred Smithson sustained an upper-body injury in the first period and didn't return. Trotz said he is doubtful for Saturday night. ... Nashville scratched Steve Sullivan because of a lower-body injury, and Colin Wilson got his first playing time this postseason after appearing in all 82 games of the regular season.