The Nashville Predators returned from a quick road trip to Chicago with a newfound sense of hope; the team had won five straight, and had launched themselves back into the playoff race. Despite the freshly created optimism, the team’s next two games would be crucial in determining whether or not the Preds could bring this season back from the dead and make the postseason.
The Dallas Stars, of “Corey Perry is the worst” fame, were lurking in the shadows of the Central Division. Despite their seventh-place 31 points, they had four games in hand on the Predators. If Nashville dropped two games to the Stars, they would lose their upper hand and need to finish the season on fire.
Juuse Saros returned to play, and Eeli Tolvanen scored the game-winner, as the Predators topped the Stars in an overtime thriller, 3-2.
The opening period of play opened with defensive slugfest. Neither team could generate high-danger chances, a fact that I’m sure Saros and Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin didn’t mind. Stars veteran Joe Pavelski almost had a breakaway, but the puck lost its way when he tried to pull off a wraparound. From this point on, the Stars slowly took control of the ice. Saros rose to the occasion and stopped every shot sent at him.
On the offensive side of the game, Nashville failed to generate much of anything. Dallas is known to be an absolute irritant to play against, and they showed the viewer why in the first period. Clogging up the neutral zone, swiftly eliminating any offensive-zone chances, and getting physical whenever possible are all trademarks of this iteration of Dallas. Neither team could get a puck in the net through the first 20, as the Predators entered the second period with a 0-0 tie.
Unfortunately for Predators fans, the team did not come out with a sense of urgency to open the period. The team seemed content to play into the Stars’ strategy of dominating possession and quickly snuffing out any potential threat. Eventually, Dallas made the Predators pay for their inability to generate offense; rookie Jason Robertson and Roope Hintze found themselves on a two-man breakaway, and Robertson opted to put it home himself instead of passing to Hintze. After 26 minutes of hockey, we had a goal.
Minutes after Nashville fell behind by one, they were given a chance to tie it up; Rhett Gardner sent his stick into Roman Josi’s neck, and thus was sent to the box for two minutes. Thankfully, this cross-check did not alter Josi’s ability to snipe pucks. We know this because once the team set up their power play offense, it was the captain to send the tying goal past Khudobin. However, after this tying goal, the special teams pendulum swung in the other direction; Nashville had a penalty to kill, courtesy of a trip from Ben Harpur.
Before Harpur could even get his seat warm in the penalty box, the Stars had converted. Hintz lasered a shot past Saros just six seconds into the Stars’ power play, and Dallas retook the lead. That would be the last goal of the period, as Nashville entered the final period of play trailing 2-1.
Viktor Arvidsson had a golden opportunity to tie the game at two within the first four minutes of play. Arvy successfully maneuvered a wraparound shot and put it on goal, but Khudobin performed the necessary acrobatics to block the incoming shot. Luckily for Nashville, a different opportunistic Swede was ready to make his mark on the game. Luke Kunin sent a shot in from outside, and Calle Järnkrok was right in front of the net to snag the rebound off the board and bury the game-tying goal. With 15 minutes of hockey left, we had a tie game.
As time progressed in the period, the tension and stress of the game reached a fever pitch. Both teams skated as if their playoff chances depended on it (because they likely did), and both goaltenders were tested with high-danger shots.
With 90 seconds left to play, it seemed like Järnkrok had scored his second of the night; unfortunately, his shot went off the crossbar. This would be the last scoring chance of the third period, as the Predators and Stars would head to overtime for the third-straight time.
Mattias Ekholm had the first shot of the overtime period for Nashville, a breakaway shot that went just wide of the net. Eeli Tolvanen had the last one. On a breakaway of his own, Tolvanen buried the puck past Khudobin, earning Nashville a crucial two points in one of the most important games of the season. Nashville will return to play on Thursday, facing off against the Stars once more for another crucial two points.
OTFs Three Stars of the Game
- Eeli Tolvanen — What more needs to be said? A goal and an assist, the goal being a game-winner. Absolutely incredible.
- Calle Järnkrok — Scored the game-tying goal that got Nashville to overtime, and was creating plays all over the ice.
- Juuse Saros — Held the fort down for the Predators, and kept the team in the game when Dallas occupied Nashville’s zone for minutes at a time.