Even a lengthy road trip can't stop Nashville
The Predators flew back into Nashville after collecting seven points on their lengthy five game road trip this past week. After having practice on Wednesday, they've had around a day and a half worth of rest.
Which had zero impact on their start against the Islanders.
Nashville arguably seemed a little slower than normal coming out of the gate, but the pressure they placed on New York early in the first was enough to allow Calle Jarnkrok to find James Neal in the slot midway through the period for what had to be the easiest goal of the season for Neal.
"That was the thing coach was emphasizing this morning and we were talking about as well," said Predators forward Ryan Johansen. "When you come home from a long road trip like that, usually teams like to take a deep breath and kind of wait to get in the game or wait for something to happen. We wanted to initiate tonight and go out there and have a good start."
I initially thought the Predators would have had a bit of trouble to start the period, much like their start against the Vancouver Canucks last Saturday night, but head coach Peter Laviolette made sure his players didn't fall for the same trap this time around.
"We talked about it quite a bit this morning," said Laviolette. "Even going into the game just what it would take to be successful. The Islanders have had a great year to this point. They're a very strong team. I thought our guys were really strong. They were good in the first period."
Answering a deflating goal
Early into the second period, Nashville had a fantastic opportunity to make it a 2-0 game and put the Islanders back on their heels. Barret Jackman and Mike Ribeiro played a bit of keep-away in the offensive zone before Ribeiro found a wide-open Filip Forsberg after Islanders goaltender Thomas Greiss had been pulled from one direction to the other, leaving Forsberg with as much open net as Neal had in the first.
Unfortunately for Forsberg, he missed the shot.
On the very next shift, Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock would net his first career goal on a beautiful wrist shot past Pekka Rinne and tie the game.
It's interesting to see how teams rebound from what can be an extremely deflating sequence of events, especially with sequences that the Predators experienced in the second period. Good teams tend to rebound quite nicely, while other teams may fold under the pressure.
Lately, Nashville has been a really good hockey team. They continued to be one against New York.
Ryan Ellis would regain the lead for Nashville on the power play a little over two minutes after Pulock tied it and Johansen would make it 3-1 two minutes after that.
That's the mark of a solid team. The ability to regain their composure.
"If you gave another 99 [opportunities] to Filip, he'd hit 99 out of 100," Laviolette said. "It was a terrific play by [Ribeiro] and good offensive zone time. It was just a tough bounce coming off of his stick. It was 1-1. It could have been 2-0, but it was a good response by our guys."
Predators finding themselves in prime position late in the season
Even though the Islanders made it a much tenser game in the third rather than the first two periods, the Predators gained a very important two points on Thursday night against New York.
Not only did they stretch their lead to nine points on Colorado for the top wild card spot in the Western Conference, but they cut Chicago's lead to only three points in the Central Division.
Why is this important? Catching anyone -- especially Chicago -- in the Central Division to jump back into the top three would give Nashville a much better path in the Stanley Cup playoffs than having to run the gauntlet through the Pacific Division or meeting the Blackhawks at any point prior to the Western Conference Finals.
If Nashville can catch Chicago in the next handful of games, they'll also have the slight chance to try and climb even higher on the ladder and set sights on the Central Division crown -- something that may already be out of reach, but still fun to dream about.
"It goes to show that when you get on a streak, anything can happen," said Rinne. "All of a sudden you gain a lot of points and start catching up to teams. It's pretty interesting. When it gets to this point of the season, you pay attention to the standings and how many points you need to gain, but you still just try to focus on one game at a time."
Ryan Johansen, Nashville Predators -- Now is the perfect time for Johansen to get himself on a bit of a point streak as the Predators finish up the regular season. His goal in the second was a thing of beauty off a fantastic feed by Neal.
James Neal, Nashville Predators -- It's hard to stop Neal when he's on a roll. Neal now has six points in his last four games, four of those being goals.
Ryan Ellis, Nashville Predators -- A fantastic goal in the second period allowed Nashville to re-gain the lead. Against a strong Islanders team, Ellis played one of his better games in the past month.