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Nashville Predators 2, Dallas Stars 0: The Monkeys Are Off Their Backs

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Forsberg, Duchene snap scoring droughts to give Preds first win over Stars since April

NHL: Dallas Stars at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

This one just feels good.

After two of their worst games of the year, which resulted in the team falling out of a playoff spot, the Nashville Predators responded with a much-needed 2-0 win over the Dallas Stars.

The game itself featured a number of “monkey off their backs” moments. This was Nashville’s first win over Dallas since Game 3 of last year’s playoffs. We also saw Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene break lengthy goal droughts, and the Preds’ much-maligned special teams ultimately become the difference maker.

Ironically, many of the same tools the Stars had been using to frustrate the Predators for a full calendar year was on display, only this time in the Preds’ favor: aggressive forechecking that led to turnovers, staunch neutral zone defense that made it difficult to sustain offense, and — thanks to Juuse Saros’s third shutout of the season — a goaltender getting hot at the right time.

These are two big points, and a monumental weight off of Nashville’s shoulders.

First Period

First and foremost, if you didn’t get a chance to see it, go back and watch the full pre-game from the link below.

The one thing I’ve learned from growing up in Tennessee? When life knocks you down, you can always count on your neighbors to help you back on your feet. That’s what we’ve seen over the past few days, and that’s what we’ll continue to do moving forward.

We truly are Nashville Strong, Cookeville Strong, Wilson County Strong... Tennessee Strong.

I wanted to start with that, because once the puck dropped.... woof.

The Predators went nine minutes into the game before getting a shot on goal, and it wasn’t due to a lack of opportunities. There were a couple shifts where the Preds got the puck through the neutral zone, but instead of trying to set up a play, they’d lose possession on a dump-and-chase attempt. There was another shift where Viktor Arvidsson passed on an opportunity to shoot to try and make an extra pass. It was early in the game, but sometimes, it doesn’t hurt just to throw something on net.

Unlike Tuesday night, however, the Preds managed to turn things around as the period progressed. Craig Smith came a split-second away from giving the Preds the lead after just BARELY missing a back-door pass from Roman Josi, and moments later, Filip Forsberg gets a wide-open look at an empty net, but air-mails his shot over the goal. On the other end, Juuse Saros denied Jamie Benn with a sprawling save off a rebound, that easily could have given Dallas the lead.

Oh yeah, this was also Corey Perry’s first game against the Preds since the Ryan Ellis hit, and multiple Preds really wanted to murder him right in the face.

Hate to see it.

Eventually, the Preds DO strike first on, believe it or not, the power play! Forsberg sneaks an innocent-looking wrist shot past Anton Khudobin for his first goal since January 30. 1-0 Predators. You could see over a month of frustration melt off Forsberg’s face after that shot. Despite the drought, Forsberg has played some relatively sound hockey over the past few weeks, so watching him find his way back onto the scoresheet is a sight for sore eyes.

That goal also moves Forsberg into third place on the Predators all-time scoring list. Who’d he pass, you ask?

Martin Erat.

Second Period

Here’s another plus — the Predators carried their momentum from the end of the first period into the second! They continued to pepper Khudobin with quality chances. Also, I’m not sure if this was due to an adjustment by John Hynes or just... you know... playing better, but you could sense a drastic change of how the Preds handled Dallas’s neutral zone defense (the old-school trap that’s been giving Nashville fits dating back to last year’s playoffs), and it resulted in winning more puck battles.

Another plus — special teams! It was arguably the strongest aspect of the Preds’ game tonight, and I’ll submit this period as Exhibit A.

We saw Nashville take back-to-back penalties halfway through the period. First, Arvidsson went to the box to serve a Too Many Men penalty, then after leaving the box, Arvy got tagged again crosschecking Andrew Cogliano into the boards. The Preds wound up killing both penalties with relative ease. In fact, Nick Bonino, short-handed, had the best scoring chance out of anyone during that four-minute stretch — a one-timer from the slot that Khudobin managed to snag. As much grief as we’ve given the Preds’ penalty kill this season, those units have been brilliant the past two games. (Side note — Korbinian Holzer, who made his Preds debut tonight, made two heads-up plays that led to clear-outs.)

Not long after the second kill, it was the Preds’ power play’s turn to say “aight, it’s our turn to shine now.” Matt Duchene, who drew the tripping penalty that led to the power play, deflects a Calle Jarnkrok shot past Khudobin to put the Preds up 2-0. Like Forsberg, Duchene snapped a drought with that goal — his first since February 15th.

The Stars got one last surge before the end of the period, easily their best offensive sequence since early in the first period. Saros responded with three quality saves from right in front of the net, the best one coming off a Joe Pavelski wrap-around.

You can’t be mad at how this period played out. It wasn’t perfect, but the Preds did a lot of things they needed to do to win this game.

Third Period

The Predators’ penalty kill starts the period with another solid kill, allowing just one truly threatening chance on Saros (which was saved). This was caused by Arvidsson’s third trip to the penalty box this game, which has led to some OTF writers brainstorming new ways to keep him out of the box.

.........*sigh*

Anyway, the first half of the third period just felt like survival mode for the Preds. The Stars controlled most of this stretch, outshooting Nashville 9-2 to start the period. Saros, again, came up with a handful of key saves, including on a point-blank chance from Perry.

Around the ten minute mark though, things started to tilt the other way thanks to maybe one of the best individual shifts of the season. Craig Smith intercepted a Stars pass, led the rush, got two shots on Khudobin (collecting his own rebound after the first one), then forced another turnover in the offensive zone, and capped that with two more shots. It didn’t lead to a goal, but it was enough to warrant the trademark Bridgestone Arena standing ovation leading to the TV timeout.

For real doe... re-sign Craig Smith.

The Stars had a few opportunities over the last five minutes, but ultimately, none really threatened Saros. The Preds hang on for two big points.

OTF’s Super-Duper Stars o’ the Game

  1. Special Teams: Two power play goals and a perfect penalty-killing percentage over the past two games. Who are these guys and what have they done with the Nashville Predators?
  2. Curse Breakers: A special thanks to whichever arcane experts helped Duchene and Forsberg snap their scoring curses, and helped the Preds snap their losing streak against the Stars.
  3. Juuse Saros: The Finnish baby bear made it un-baby-bearable for Dallas’s high-scoring offense in this game.

Now What?

Stars vs. Preds II, Electric Boogaloo goes down Saturday afternoon in Dallas. It’s a 1:00 PM CST puck-drop, so plan your afternoons accordingly.