NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Ryan Johansen celebrated his game-winning goal with a windmill fist pump, and the Nashville Predators finished off the rest of a thrilling third period with the standing-room only crowd on their feet anticipating history.
Yes, the team that plays in a place called “Smashville” is going someplace the Predators have never been before: the Western Conference final.
Johansen scored 3:15 into the third, and the Predators advanced to the conference finals in their fourth try by beating the St. Louis Blues 3-1 to take the series in six games.
“It’s a big step for the franchise,” Predators defenseman Roman Josi said. “This is such a great city, such a great hockey city, I think people finally recognize that. Our fans are unbelievable.”
The Predators won their ninth straight playoff game in Nashville going back to last postseason.
“It’s obviously a tough building,” Blues goalie Jake Allen said. “So whoever they play next is going to have their hands full.”
Goalie Pekka Rinne made 23 saves and had an assist. Josi had a goal and an assist, and Calle Jarnkrok added an empty-netter with 60 seconds left.
“Right now, it means everything,” Rinne said. “We haven’t gotten further than this before. Obviously, it’s a great feeling. There’s a lot of work left. After this second round, there are only four teams left. We all know that we have what it takes and everything is in our hands. It’s a good feeling. This is why you play this game. Right now, I’m pretty happy.”
Nashville will play either Anaheim or Edmonton.
Paul Stastny scored for St. Louis, which fell short of a second straight conference final.
The Predators and Blues were tied through the first 40 minutes for a third straight game and fourth overall in this series when Johansen skated up the slot for a pass from Viktor Arvidsson and beat Allen with a backhand.
OILERS 7, DUCKS 1: In Edmonton, Alberta, Leon Draisaitl had three goals and two assists, and Mark Letestu added two goals and two assists as Edmonton won to force a decisive Game 7 in the Western Conference semifinal series.
Zach Kassian and Anton Slepychev also scored, and Cam Talbot stopped 34 shots for the Oilers, who led 5-0 after the first period.
Rickard Rakell scored midway through the second period for Anaheim. John Gibson was pulled after giving up three goals on six shots less than 81/2 minutes into the game. Jonathan Bernier came on and finished with 25 saves.
Game 7 is Wednesday at Anaheim.