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Rallying Predators keep Canucks from moving on

The Nashville Predators are reminding the Vancouver Canucks that it's never over till it's really over.

Once again.

The Canucks thought they learned that lesson after nearly blowing a 3-0 series lead and needing overtime in Game 7 to knock off the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round. They led Nashville 3-1 only to see the Predators win their first elimination game in six tries Saturday night to extend this Western Conference semifinal to Game 6 on Monday night in Nashville.

Vancouver is 1-4 when having a chance to eliminate an opponent this postseason. The Presidents' Trophy winners are 6-1 in their other playoff games this year.

"What more do you want to learn," goalie Roberto Luongo said Sunday before the Canucks left for a trip they had hoped to avoid. "We should know by now what it takes. When a team has their back up against the wall, that's when they are going to play their best hockey of the season. And for us to win that game we need to have that same desperation level."

Desperation is an emotion the Predators are well acquainted with this season.

This franchise was ranked 11th in the West March 10 only to finish the regular season 14-4-3. But the Predators had never won a playoff game in which they faced elimination until their 4-3 victory Saturday night.

Joel Ward, who scored only 10 goals in the regular season, scored twice in the third period to extend this series. David Legwand also had two goals for Nashville, who rebounded after losing two straight on home ice.

"After a little letdown at home, to come up here and put some pressure on them is a good feeling," Ward said.

The Predators are back home, trying to force the first Game 7 in franchise history. For a second straight week, fans met the team at the airport Sunday afternoon to welcome the Predators home.

Nashville must stare down more team history if the Predators want to play Game 7 on Wednesday back in Vancouver for the chance to reach their first Western Conference final. The first five elimination games all came on their own ice with three coming in Game 6s and two in Game 5s.

"It's not over yet," Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne said. "Obviously, we can be happy with this one, but our backs are still against the wall still. That was our best game this series. We just battled and showed heart."

This series is taking its toll.

Nashville already lost forwards Steve Sullivan and Jerred Smithson to injuries, and Nick Spaling missed most of the third period Saturday night. The Canucks returned to Nashville without Mikael Samuelsson with Victor Oreskovich likely to replace him in the lineup.

Henrik and Daniel Sedin, the NHL's scoring leaders the past two seasons, were a combined minus-7 Saturday night. That stat had Canucks coach Alain Vigneault defending his top scorers.

Ryan Kesler, who has scored four goals in three games, also had a couple inches of stitches in jagged lines below his lip. A puck deflected off his face hard enough Saturday night to knock a tooth out, but Kesler didn't count the stitches. He also doesn't plan to play with a cage to protect his face.

He said the Canucks are focusing not on their frustration but at trying to close out this series in an arena where they feel very comfortable.

"We don't feel pressure," Kesler said. "We see the opportunity ahead, and we see Game 6 as the chance to end someone's season."

The Canucks are trying to reach their first conference final since 1994. The franchise is 6-1 in series with a 3-1 lead with the lone loss coming to Minnesota in 2003. Vigneault said obviously it would have been better to finish the series Saturday night. He credited Nashville with making the Canucks pay for their mistakes.

Vigneault also noted the Predators got into the postseason with 99 points coming out of the strong Central Division.

"They're a good team, and we're in a battle right now," Vigneault said.

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AP freelance writer Kevin Woodley in Vancouver, British Columbia, contributed to this report.