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Nashville Predators 4, Florida Panthers 5: Predators Can’t Complete Comeback (Again)

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Mattias Ekholm stock is so hot right now.

NHL: Florida Panthers at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Nashville Predators returned to action on Thursday night after a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Continuing their homestand, the Preds went to battle against their southern foes, the Florida Panthers. Ryan Johansen returned from COVID-19 protocol, and Mark Borowiecki made his first appearance since missing two games for an upper-body injury. Pekka Rinne and Sergei Bobrovsky got the starts in goal for the Predators and Panthers, respectively, as Nashville lost their second game in a row, 5-4.

First Period

Former Predator Patric Hörnqvist earned the first high-danger shot of the game for either team, as Rinne was forced to make a big stop at point-blank range. Florida got a two-on-one break in their next trip down the ice, and the Panthers led 5-1 in shots through the opening four minutes of the game. The Predators soon responded with long stretches of offensive-zone time of their own. Despite shots in front of the net, the Predators came away empty-handed.

Just before the 13-minute mark, the Panthers got some net presence in front of Rinne, and Carter Verhaeghe buried the puck through the mass of bodies to put the Panthers ahead by one. Less than three minutes later, Mason Marchment scored his first goal of the game on Rinne on a fast break for Florida. With roughly half of the first period left to go, the Predators were already trailing by two. There would be no more goals in this period, as the Predators headed to the locker room still trailing.

NHL: Florida Panthers at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Second Period

Opening the middle period, one would hope that the Predators would come out like a bat out of hell. Considering that the team is 31st in the league in second-period goals, the fact that they did not do this shouldn’t be surprising.

The Panthers got right back to their aggressive style of play, ambushing Rinne with shot after shot to open the period, and they eventually found the back of the net. Less than a minute into the game, Jonathan Huberdeau rifled the puck past Peks, and Bridgestone Arena fell silent. Unfortunately, it has been doing that a lot this year.

In a moment that felt like divine intervention, the Predators were given a five-on-three opportunity for a minute and 45 seconds. First, Juho Lammikko was called for slashing on Calle Järnkrok. Seconds later, Alex Wennberg tried to clear the puck but inadvertently sent it out of play. With this delay of game penalty, Nashville had a golden opportunity to inject some life into this game. No life was injected; the Predators blew their best chance of the night at a goal.

Despite the failed power play, the Predators were not finished in the second period just yet. With about seven minutes left in the second, Mattias Ekholm sent an absolute boomer past Bobrovsky from the blue line. All of the sudden, we had life! Soon after, Rocco Grimaldi found himself on a breakaway; while he did not score, it was clear that the goal from the Swedish defender had ignited a fire in the home team.

Despite the momentum, Nashville was put on the penalty kill soon after, thanks to a cross-checking call on Roman Josi. Right after killing one penalty, Colton Sissons committed another. This time, the Panthers made the Preds pay; Hörnqvist shoved the puck in on the man advantage, and the deficit was back to three.

But wait, TWO SECOND-PERIOD GOALS? Yes! In the last minute of the period, Viktor Arvidsson sent a wrister towards the net, and Filip Forsberg tipped it in to bring Nashville to within two. That would do it for the second period. Could Nashville pull out their usual third-period goals? Let’s find out.

Third Period

NHL: Florida Panthers at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Early in the final period of the game, Rocco Grimaldi scored what we thought was a goal to bring Nashville within one. However, a challenge from Joel Quenneville revealed that the play was offsides; offsides be damned, that sequence was beautiful. Regardless, the Predators still had a two-goal deficit to overcome. What followed was a period of high-intensity play, as both teams generated quality chances. While Nashville still trailed, watching some good hockey is refreshing for this team.

Halfway through the period, Borowiecki was sent to the box on an interference call. In what felt like a back-breaker for the Predators, Aaron Ekblad weaved through the Predators defense and went top shelf over Rinne.

Nashville would answer once again, though; Colton Sissons netted his fourth goal of the season on a feed from Brad Richardson. Forsberg also thought he had a goal, but the score that would bring the Predators to within one was waived off. Instead, Roman Josi was sent to the box for slashing. The Panthers failed to convert.

Late in the period, Ryan Johansen gave this team a shot at pulling off the second comeback over Florida of the year; his goal with a minute and change left brought his team to within one goal. However, the Predators failed to get the tying goal with the net emptied. With that, the game was over; Nashville would have another chance at the Panthers on Friday.

OTF’s Three Stars of the Game

  1. Mattias Ekholm—Ignited the offense when it seemed like an impossible task. He also improved his trade value!
  2. Rocco Grimaldi—I don’t care what the referees think, the sequence of his called-off goal was beautiful.
  3. Ja Morant—Across the state in Memphis, the sophomore guard scored 35 points tonight against the Bucks. At least one team in Tennessee is keeping things exciting!

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