The Nashville Predators played a hockey game against the Tampa Bay Lightning today, and damn if it wasn’t the most fun I’ve had watching this team all year. At long last, the youth movement is in full swing, folks! What happened, who starred, and where does the team go from here? All that below.
The game kicked off with a surprising play by Mathieu Olivier and the newly christened “Beast Line” from the opening face-off. Olivier pantsed the entire Stamkos line and took it to the net, finishing inches away from a goal on his first shift. This was actually a sign of things to come for the remainder of the day. I was just as stunned as you are, trust me.
Nashville hung tough and kept pace with Tampa the entire way through the first, trading penalties with Tampa (Cernak and Johansen were both penalized on separate occasions for holding). Unfortunately, Nashville had trouble entering the zone with possession, but as a whole the team looked shockingly good against the league’s best.
The tie was almost broken when a rebound got jammed into the crease by Anthony Cirelli, but Dante Fabbro did his best Ryan Ellis impersonation to keep it scoreless.
Someone's buying Dante Fabbro (@17Fabbro) dinner this week... pic.twitter.com/siZNzyivla— NHL (@NHL) March 15, 2021
The Predators exited the first having played an excellent opening twenty minutes and looked to continue it in the second. How did that go?
Man, it’s really fun when your team gets creative on offense. Nashville came out of the locker room like a bunch of toddlers jacked up on Monster, playing with pace and physicality that I hadn’t seen since their Presidents’ Trophy season. After killing off a Colton Sissons hook, the Preds started cooking with gas, and everything improved from there.
The “Beast Line” put in work, with Trenin flashing some beautiful touches on outlet and saucer passes, but the real beauty came on Eeli Tolvanen’s sixth goal of the season.
flick of the wrist— Nashville Predators (@PredsNHL) March 15, 2021
*chefs kiss* @gohermitage | #NSHvsTBL pic.twitter.com/sDst3a6eo3
Everything about that play is wonderful. Johansen finally showing off his perfect passing touch, Tolvanen burying it; everything. Mathieu Olivier forced a Yanni Gourde hold to send Nashville back to the power play, and this time it was Erik Haula who made a nice dish to Viktor Arvidsson to make it 2-0.
NHL Video Highlight - Viktor Arvidsson scores a power-play goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning to make it 2-0. pic.twitter.com/nGnr1VsFP8— Lightning Game Bot (@lightning_game) March 15, 2021
Calle Järnkrok earned his third point of the day by adding some icing on the cake, burying a shorthanded breakaway goal to make it 3-0. I really wish he did that more often.
Calle Jarnkrok's breakaway is good. pic.twitter.com/KO0EwFd2SX— NHL (@NHL) March 15, 2021
Also spectacular in the period was Pekka Rinne, who covered up a few defensive lapses by the Predators. If you’re sad that you missed a fun game, you’re right to be.
Pekka Rinne has handled onslaught after onslaught today from #GoBolts, and more to come in the final period.#Preds lead 3-0. pic.twitter.com/BFOCvxh0ah— Chad Minton (@chad_minton) March 15, 2021
The Predators continued playing with some serious urgency, but Tampa finally adjusted and started to exploit the inexperience and shallow status of the Nashville lineup. Sustained offensive zone cycles for the Lightning became more common, the Preds were stymied more often through the neutral zone, and the defense struggled to clear bodies from the crease as deftly. All of that eventually resulted in a lucky/weird Steven Stamkos goal, making it 3-1.
The remainder of the period saw a number of good opportunities for the Predators, particularly on a Filip Forsberg partial breakaway and a wide-open look off an Arvidsson blocked shot that skittered past Calle Järnkrok. Tampa pulled Curtis McElhinney with just over three minutes remaining, but the young guns (Tolvanen in particular) blocked shots like men possessed, eventually setting up a Mattias Ekholm empty net goal. Trade stonks going up, baby.
Three Big Things
- Holy crap was this more enjoyable to watch than, I dunno, every other game this season? To borrow a Peter Laviolette turn of phrase, the boys played with some friggin jam out there. Blocking shots, forechecking like their hair was on fire, attacking the slot with gusto; this performance by Nashville against a far more experienced and overall superior team gives me hope for the future. It’s proof of concept that this team needed some fresh blood that just purely wanted it more than everyone else. Hungry dogs run faster.
- Pekka Rinne continues to defy all logic with his age-reversing sorcery. Seriously, he had no business making some of the saves he did this afternoon. The big Finn kept Nashville in the game by buoying them in the stretches where they got shelled. The future in net is uncertain, but the present is the 38-year-old icon until proven otherwise.
- Eeli Tolvanen had himself a game, but the player of the day for me is Calle Järnkrok. The Swede has been playing some great hockey lately and notched four points and a momentum-generating goal on a nice breakaway shot. Good for him.
Pekka Rinne continues to add to his venerable career with another fantastic win. In honor of him, let’s play his theme song.
Good night, good hockey, and as always, go Preds.