Roberto Luongo blanks Predators as Canucks take Game 1

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The hardest part of the first two periods for Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo was staying awake while all the action was at the other end of the ice.

He couldn't really relax though in the opener of the Western Conference semifinal series on Thursday night because Nashville Predators Pekka Rinne turned away most of what Vancouver fired at him.

Luongo made nine of his 20 saves in the third period to ensure Christopher Higgins' second-period goal stood up as the Canucks opened the second-round series with a 1-0 win over Nashville.

While Luongo only faced 11 shots in the first two periods, Rinne stopped 25 of 26 drives -- several in spectacular fashion -- to keep it close.

"Shots are 20-5, so you don't want to give up a goal and all of a sudden it's 1-0 for them," Luongo said. "That's your mindset. You focus on getting involved in the play and making sure you are sharp when you do get a shot."

The toughest attempt Luongo faced was a short-handed breakaway 5:20 into the third period, but he patiently waited out Mike Fisher's glove side shot and kept it out of the net.

"A couple shots early in the third and I was able to settle in," Luongo said of his second shutout in these playoffs and third of his NHL postseason career.

The Canucks, who will host Game 2 on Saturday, wasted little time settling into the second round.

Just two days after beating archrival Chicago in overtime of Game 7 of a series in which Vancouver had held a 3-0 lead, the Canucks looked more like a Presidents' Trophy-winning team.

Vancouver quickly ended any fears of a letdown, but early on couldn't solve Rinne, who made a bunch of stellar stops. Nashville was outshot 26-11 through two periods but trailed only 1-0.

Rinne finished with 29 saves and a hard-luck loss.

"He's one of the best goalies in the league," Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said. "We should have put more in, but one was good enough."

While most wondered if the Canucks would struggle, it was the fifth-seeded Predators who looked a bit road-weary after arriving in Vancouver on Wednesday night. Nashville, off since eliminating Anaheim in Game 6 on Sunday, came out flat in its first second-round game in team history.

"The biggest disappointment you can have is when you have an expectation from someone who you want to go to war with every night, and they're letting you down," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "We had too many passengers, not enough guys pulling on the rope. I mean, we're in the conference semifinal. Are you kidding me? Not acceptable."

Vancouver outshot Nashville 16-5 in the first period, but Rinne made the best of a handful of great saves with his glove to prevent any second chances.

"I don't know what was the problem," said Rinne, refusing to blame the travel or late arrival. "It was us. We respect their team, it's a good hockey team, but it was us. We just didn't have it. Last series we were the ones dictating the pace of the game, and tonight it was the other way around."

Higgins finally scored on the Canucks' 24th shot, taken with 7:46 left in the second after a turnover at the Nashville blue line led to a 3-on-1 down low.

Higgins, who also opened the scoring in the first round, took a cross-ice feed from Maxim Lapierre in the slot and fired a shot as Rinne stacked the pads while sliding across. The puck went off Rinne, and up and under the crossbar. It came back out of the net so quickly, the referee signaled no goal. Play continued even as Higgins began to celebrate with teammates.

"I saw it before everyone else but I'm glad it went in," Higgins said. "We had some great chances and he made some big saves. He's really, really good at catching the puck, and there wasn't too many second-chance opportunities."

A quick video review confirmed that the puck struck something inside the net before popping out. That was all the offense Luongo needed.

He made good saves to deny Sergei Kostitsyn and Jordin Tootoo from the slot later in the period, stayed with Fisher during the breakaway, controlled a hard shot from Shea Weber on a power play, and got a break when Weber missed an empty net on a nice backdoor pass on the same advantage.

"It's definitely my fault we didn't tie it up," Weber said. "I had the whole net to hit there. I tried to get it under the bar and I put it over the net."

Game notes
Both teams were 0 for 5 on the power play. ... Canucks LW Alex Burrows scored the series-clinching goal Tuesday, and his wife gave birth to their first child, a daughter named Victoria, the following night. ... The Canucks are in the second round for the fourth time in five seasons, but haven't reached the Western Conference finals since 1994. ... Nashville will host Games 3 and 4.