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Nashville Predators 2, Florida Panthers 1: Clutch Calle

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Calle Järnkrok’s two goals push the Predators past the Panthers in a strong game by Nashville.

NHL: Nashville Predators at Florida Panthers Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

After a big win against the reigning Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, the Nashville Predators took that ounce of confidence on the road to Sunrise, Florida to take on the Florida Panthers. Here is how the game unfolded.

First Period

Juuse Saros returned to the lineup as the Predators’ goaltender after being out with an upper-body injury. Sergei Bobrovsky (a.k.a. Jim Carey on skates) started in net for the Panthers. The Predators needed a few minutes to shake off the “extra day of rest” rust, and it seemed like any puck possession was used for line changing. The Preds finally got their first shot on net a little over five minutes into the game.

A Florida turnover led to a Predators goal tipped in by Eeli Tolvanen, but some slapstick theatrics by Bobrovsky led to a “no goal” call for goaltender interference. Juuse Saros made far less of a spectacle when he ended up with two players on top of him in net during a subsequent netfront scramble. The called off goal got the Predators humming again, and they played more in the offensive zone the second half of the period.

Jérémy Davies headed to the penalty box for cross checking with 7:46 remaining in the period, and the Predators faced a formidable Panthers power play. Before any damage could be done, Aaron Ekblad got stick sassy and headed to the penalty box with his very vocal righteous indignation. Four-on-four play turned into a skater advantage for the Predators when Ben Harpur took a high stick from Jonathan Huberdeau. The Predators had some terrific shots, but the Panthers had several shot blocks and the penalties expired with no score.

With 1:22 remaining in the period Huberdeau slipped the puck past Saros on a two on one. Period ends Panthers up 1-0.

Second Period

Right out of the gate, Yakov Trenin headed to the sin bin for holding and the Panthers went on the power play. Saros was dialed in, and the only thing that ended up in the net was an off-balance Frank Vatrano. The Panthers controlled the puck for most of the first five minutes of the game, but the Predators slowly got more offensive time and the payoff came at 7:25, compliments of Calle Järnkrok and a cricket midair swing.

Florida came storming back but (for once) the hockey gods smiled on Nashville, as several passes slipped out of the zone and a shot zipped horizontally through the blue ice behind Saros and out the other side. The Predators took a turn with offensive possession but didn’t find the back of the net. The Predators’ most exciting chances of the period came with less than a minute to go, but the score remained even at the buzzer: 1-1.

Third Period

Aleksander Barkov started the action in the third with a quick shot on Saros, but Juuse was able to snag the puck. The Predators set up in the offensive zone and took advantage when Bobrovsky overacted overplayed the puck, and Mikhail Granlund snagged the puck to a waiting Calle Järnkrok in the slot for Jarny’s second goal of the game.

Saros faced down a breakaway by Anthony Duclair but didn’t bat an eye with a terrific save to keep the Predators up one. Bobrovsky stopped a shot shortly after and play was immediately halted when he dramatically lost his mask. Once he was re-masked, Viktor Arvidsson pestered him, but still couldn’t find the back of the net.

Predators fans held their breath as Eeli Tolvanen and Filip Forsberg took consecutive shots on goal, but Bobrovsky was able to snag fans’ hopes as he did the puck. Florida stepped up the pressure halfway through the period.

The Panthers went on the power play on an interference call on Mattias Ekholm with 7:47 left in the game. An aggressive penalty kill kept the puck out of the back of the net for the next two harrowing minutes. Florida wasn’t done with their pressure, and with two minutes remaining Bobrovsky headed for the bench. Last-minute heroics have been a storyline for the Panthers, but the Predators refused to give an inch. Nashville logged a strong win 2-1.

Three Things:

  1. Return of Saros = Return of the Jedi. Despite missing several weeks with an upper-body injury, Saros came back to the ice absolutely focused and feeling the force.
  2. The Preds “Rocky”ed the Panthers. The Predators played a very physical game, and many players in gold got in on the action. Fortunately, the physicality didn’t lead to silly penalties, and an aggressive penalty kill eliminated any advantage the few Preds penalties gave Florida.
  3. Quiet games by the “top guns” reveal the reliability of the “lesser known but outrageously valuable guns”. Great games by Järnkrok, Granlund, and the rookies carried this team tonight. Imagine if Forsberg and Johansen were offensively hot too. Maybe Saturday?