ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Pontus Aberg spent most of the season in the minors, and he had a part-time depth role for the Nashville Predators in these Stanley Cup playoffs until injuries thrust him into a key role in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.
And now the unassuming Swede has another new role for Nashville: He’s the hero of the latest clutch victory in the Predators’ increasingly irresistible Stanley Cup push.
Aberg scored his first career playoff goal with 8:59 to play, and the Predators moved to the brink of their first Stanley Cup Final with a 3-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks to take a 3-2 series lead Saturday night. Aberg had to send himself flying across the crease to swat home a rebound of Filip Forsberg’s shot for the Predators, epitomizing Nashville’s persistent effort through a defensive victory.
A moment before he scored the biggest goal of his life, Aberg was upended during a scramble. He had to be taken off the ice for medical evaluation immediately after his celebration, but his teammates hung on to move one win away from playing for hockey’s ultimate prize.
“I face-planted there and lost my tooth, but it didn’t hurt my head,” Aberg said with a smile.
Not much seems to wound these resilient Predators, who overcame the injury absence of top scorer Ryan Johansen and captain Mike Fisher. Nashville leaned heavily on stalwart goalie Pekka Rinne and got barely enough offense to survive, with Colin Wilson scoring the tying goal late in the second period and Austin Watson adding an empty-netter.
“We knew coming into tonight that we’ve just got to come together, play well defensively and grind it out,” Rinne said.
“I thought that’s what we did. We showed a lot of character. For us, the first couple of rounds was fairly smooth sailing. Things were going our way. You deal with adversity, but right now, it’s something that every team is going to face, and I feel like we handled it really welpl.”