Falling behind in an NHL playoff series is never a recipe for success. So the fourth game is typically a pivotal one — particularly for the team that’s trailing. But there are times when the stakes are raised even higher than usual.
That was the case on Thursday night for the Anaheim Ducks. For a number of reasons.
Outside of the simple math that says a 2-2 series is much more compelling than one where someone holds a 3-1 advantage, Anaheim was tasked with going into Nashville to try to knock off a Predators squad that was a perfect 6-0 on home ice in these playoffs. And it managed to pull it off.
Randy Carlyle’s group answered the bell early on, jumping out to a 2-0 lead by the midway point of the second period. They got there thanks to goals by Rickard Rakell and Nick Ritchie, but suffered a mini-meltdown of sorts in the third when they took four penalties in a 7:20 span.
That’s where this became an absolute must-win for the Ducks. Because losing a contest like this — where they were still up 2-0 with under seven minutes remaining — would have been devastating. Good luck trying to bounce back from that emotional letdown in time to quickly rattle off three straight wins over a Nashville team that hasn’t lost consecutive games at any point this postseason.
The Preds did score in those final seven minutes, though, cutting the lead in half at 13:33 of the third, then tying it in dramatic fashion with just 35 seconds left on the clock.
Once again, the stakes were raised higher. Entering the 26th overtime of these playoffs — just two shy of the NHL record — Nashville had all the momentum. But Anaheim has Corey Perry, and he now has an OT goal in all three rounds of this postseason.
Suddenly this series has a completely different complexion. Rather than the Predators pulling away, we have two clubs that seem destined to go the distance. When one looks like they’re taking control, the other refuses to let go.
The Ducks jumped all over Nashville early in this game, outshooting Peter Laviolette’s guys 14-2 in the first period. But the Predators weathered the storm, hung around and eventually came all the way back to tie it on a somewhat controversial goal. Then Nashville became the side controlling play to start OT, but Anaheim fought off the pressure and got an ugly — yet still effective — winner from Perry.
There were other heroes beyond just the goal-scorers for the Ducks on Thursday though. And chief among them was John Gibson, who fought through to make 32 saves between the pipes. Outside of a relatively shaky performance in Anaheim’s Game 2 victory, he’s been impressive in this series. In the other three contests, he’s stopped 113 of the 120 shots he’s faced, for a .942 save percentage. And he came up big in key moments — including OT — to take down Game 4.
Of course, Gibson also temporarily lost his mind and left his net to retrieve his stick while the puck was lose in the Ducks’ zone during that OT, but that’s in the past now. Mainly because the Preds weren’t able to capitalize.
“He’s been huge,” Anaheim forward Nate Thompson told NBC Sports after the game. “He’s made timely saves, big saves. He made some big saves in overtime for is or it could’ve been a different story. So he’s been our rock back there and we’re happy to have him.”
Gibson also stepped up on the penalty kill for the Ducks, and that may have saved their season. Despite all the penalties they faced in the third period, they managed to kill each one off — including 1:31 of 5-on-3 time. A lot of the credit for that goes to guys like Hampus Lindholm, Ryan Kesler, Cam Fowler and Nate Thompson who logged extensive shorthanded time. But plenty is owed to Gibson as well. And the posts around him, for that matter.
So now we have a deadlocked series, which is probably where this one should be right now. Anaheim is still facing a club that hasn’t lost two straight at any point, but now they have home ice advantage again. And they’re in a much better spot than they could have been if Gibson wasn’t on his game.