After a 2-0 loss to the Boston Bruins on Thursday, the Nashville Predators took the ice at Bridgestone Arena tonight to face off against the Montreal Canadiens. Both teams came into this game hungry for a win. The Habs entered the Tire Barn with a 6-17-2 overall record and have only been able to log one win since the 6-3 beatdown they gave the Predators on November 20. The Predators have had slightly more success since that disastrous Montreal matchup but have not be able to put together back to back wins. Which team was able to tip the ice in their favor with a win in Nashville tonight?
The line of Kunin, Johansen, and Tolvanen started on the ice for the Preds. Before the trio could finish their opening shift, Montreal’s Mike Hoffman tripped Eeli Tolvanen and was directed to the sin bin at :28. The Predators set up on the power play, but neither the first nor second units could find the back on the net on the early man advantage.
The Preds continued generating offense pressure and were rewarded on a blueline shot from Mattias Ekholm tipped in by a recently “snakebit” Eeli Tolvanen at 4:55. This broke Tolvy’s scoring dry spell, which had dragged out since he scored the first goal for the team in the season opener against the Seattle Kraken.
A quick three on two opportunity for the Predators resulted in an interference penalty committed by David Savard at 7:27. Nashville sent out the second power play unit to start the two minutes of Montreal shame. Tolvanen and his special teams gang generated a few looks, but at the end of the penalty neither Preds unit capitalized.
The shoe/skate went on the other foot as Ryan Johansen was called for high sticking on a physical play at 12:21. The Habs struggled to get set up during the first minute, and when they finally established possession in the second half of the penalty, Juuse Saros denied the three shots on net with little struggle. Johansen’s errant stick didn’t benefit Montreal as the teams returned to five a side.
A hooking call at 18:50 on Montreal’s Nick Suzuki gave the Predators their third chance on the power play. Nashville set up quickly and threatened, but the period ended with every Predators fan holding their breath as Tyler Toffoli broke out on last second shorthanded chance. Saros deflected the puck away from his turf as the horn sounded.
Nashville began the second with a leftover man advantage of :50 but again couldn’t produce a goal. Five on five play was briefly interrupted by a Mark Borowiecki versus Michael Pezzetta prizefight at 1:59 when Boro took exception to a hit on defense partner Matt Benning. Boro and Pezzetta took their five-minute penalties on the chin (quite unlike their punches) and the teams continued the on-ice battle.
Juuse Saros had his biggest challenges of the game thus far in the minutes after the fight as Montreal sent several pucks on net. At 4:11 Alexandre Carrier ended up keeping Borowiecki company in the penalty box on a holding call. The hold cost the Predators, as Nick Suzuki found the back of the net top shelf at 4:48 and tied the game 1-1.
Montreal had their best offensive push to this point in the game after getting on the scoreboard. The Predators appeared to need a minute to recalibrate and even out the play. As Nashville struggled to find their mojo again, Montreal’s Christian Divorak scored on a netfront rebound at 10:01. John Hynes challenged the goal for goaltender interference as Dvorak pushed Carrier into Saros prior to scoring. The men in stripes upheld the goal, and Nashville sent a man to the box for the lost challenge.
As if giving the lead and the man advantage to Montreal wasn’t challenging enough, Alexandre Carrier was called for a high stick at 10:57, leaving three Nashville defenders to scramble. Benning, Ekholm, and Granlund—and briefly Sissons in for Granlund—fiercely defended the net. Cousins, who served the challenge penalty, joined the guys in gold for the remainder of Carrier’s penalty, and somehow Nashville survived a tenuous two-minute stretch.
The Predators finally dug in in the offensive zone and were rewarded with the tip-in on another Ekholm point shot by Tanner Jeannot at 17:24.
With just :03 remaining in a tumultuous second period, Montreal’s Mike Hoffman was called for a hook and the Predators headed to the locker room with a tie game and most of a power play to look forward to.
Nashville started the period on their fourth power play, but a once-strong Predators special team again fizzled out with no goal. The lack of opportune production bit Nashville in the backside as Brett Kulak scored his first goal of the season at 3:10, giving Montreal the lead.
Shortly after, Kulak took exception to a hard but legal hit by Luke Kunin in the neutral zone. Both players dropped the gloves for the second brawl of the game at 3:39. The energy from the tussle may have helped, as Nashville had a strong stretch in the offensive zone and physical pressure at the other end of the ice while Kunin cooled off in the box. Despite a handful of high-danger chances, Nashville couldn’t convert the burst of energy into goals right away.
The Predators finally looked a little more like the first period “identity” team, and the pay off came at 10:12. Birthday boy Luke Kunin earned a Gordie Howe hat trick with a netfront scrum goal.
Montreal was called for too many men on the ice at 12:47. Once more the Predators had a man advantage. Jake Allen was peppered with a few shots, but the Habs penalty kill yet again stymied the Preds.
The final minutes of the period saw Nashville with the majority of puck possession, but a terrifying chance by Montreal on a Artturi Luhkonen breakaway had fans feasting on their nails. Saros—who had only seen one shot on goal in the third—was able to save the puck and Nashville’s hopes. Granlund, Johansen, and Duchene all tried valiantly to put the game away in regulation, but the teams headed to overtime.
Saros only faced two shots in the third period but showed he wasn’t rusty on an overtime breakaway save that had the Bridgestone crowd roaring in appreciation. Granlund returned fire on Jake Allen, but Allen smothered the puck. There were several more close calls for each team. Just when it looked like a shootout was imminent, Filip Forsberg’s pause to pick up his dropped stick opened him up for a perfect pass compliments of Mikhail Granlund and the overtime winning goal with :11 seconds left.
- Sixty minutes. Nashville started the game with a first period playing to their identity but didn’t maintain that play for stretches resulting in a shaky second, a tie game going into the third, and the need for overtime. While Montreal has some firepower on their roster, this is a game that Nashville, playing to their identity for close to sixty minutes, could and should have ended in regulation.
- The power play tonight looked vaguely familiar...and not in the good way. This season saw Nashville ranked near the top in the league for power play success, but lately—and especially tonight—the Predators returned to the anemic man advantage fans are all too familiar with from previous seasons. Tonight’s PP was a little like running into an ex in public in your ripped sweatpants and pit-stained t-shirt, with broccoli in your teeth. Special teams need a freshening up to get back to model form.
- Strong game from several. Ekholm, Kunin, Tomasino, Tolvanen, Borowiecki, and Granlund along with game winning goal scorer Forsberg and rock star netminder Saros all showed their potential at various points tonight. Consistency could make this team much more threatening down the stretch than they appeared at times tonight.