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Nashville Predators 4, Dallas Stars 3 (SO): Preds claw back win after collapse, bad reffing

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It was a wild ride, but it was a ride.

Nashville Predators v Dallas Stars Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images

Two depleted teams faced off in a makeup game tonight. The Dallas Stars were missing two key players—John Klingberg and Roope Hintz—since their win last night (minus Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov), while the Nashville Predators had no additional injuries since the last report.

Pekka Rinne got the start for the Preds again—in the absence of Juuse Saros, the coaching staff has been leaning on Rinne. News this morning was that Connor Ingram has been assigned to Nashville, but we’re still waiting to hear his status. Of course, we wish him well regardless of when or if he returns to the NHL; his health is much more important than the team. Rookie Jake Oettinger, meanwhile, started for the Stars.

The period started slowly., but the Stars eventually managed to get a little offense going. Among the Predators, Viktor Arvidsson missed a few good chances, one of them tantalizingly close, and Calle Järnkrok put some work in trying to center Colton Sissons and Eeli Tolvanen.

At about the halfway mark of the period, Mathieu Olivier boarded Nick Camaano and then fought Jamie Oleksiak for it; I’d say Oleksiak won. The Stars got a power play after the fight had been broken up, but the Predators were able to kill it off. Five minutes after that, Radek Faksa was called for boarding against Viktor Arvidsson. The referees were on hand after the whistle to separate any potential combatants, and the Preds went to the power play as well. Mikael Granlund was able to convert by tipping a Filip Forsberg shot for the first goal of the game.

Both teams seemed revitalized by the goal, with the Stars counterattacking with vigor and the Predators pressing their own attack. It was, amazingly, the Predators who were able to seize the advantage. Right after the return from commercial, Järnkrok scored again from prime real estate in the slot, thanks to some fantastic work by Granlund.

Nerves were strained as the period wound down. The Predators have spent more than a few games this season giving up a backbreaking goal with seconds left. As was familiar, the Preds somehow got caved in to their own end during the final minute, but this time Pekka Rinne made some saves, the skaters blocked some shots, and the period ended without the Stars converting on that final push.

The Stars picked up where they’d left off in the second, pressing hard and hemming the Predators into their own end. The first two minutes were a nerve-wracking grind as the Preds’ starting line and pairing were trapped in a desperate wait for either a whistle or a clear. Mattias Ekholm finally managed the clear, and just after that Rinne was able to cover a save and get that whistle.

In spite of that, the Stars continued to pressure, though the tide finally began to turn as the halfway mark approached. Viktor Arvidsson took a hit behind the Stars’ net which he wasn’t happy about, but managed to avoid being called for retaliation.

With about 8:30 remaining, Joel L’Esperance skated Matt Benning hard into Pekka Rinne. The three players went down together and Benning went after L’Esperance as soon as they’d gotten to their feet. Mark Borowiecki and Andrew Cogliano joined in. Rinne did not leave the ice or appear to be concerned about injury, but it was a nerve-wracking moment.

The Predators got a power play out of that scuffle, as Benning and the two Stars players were sent to the box, and Roman Josi scored with a perfectly-placed shot thanks to a pair of brilliant plays by Granlund. The Stars challenged for goaltender interference, and the goal came back, but seconds later Eeli Tolvanen scored a goal that counted.

In a desperate scramble in front of the Preds’ net, including a great play by Dante Fabbro as well as some saves by Rinne, Nick Cousins shoved the goal cage off its posts and was called for delay of game. The Predators were able to kill off the penalty, though the Stars continued to press. Rinne made a key save on a Joe Pavelski breakaway with about two minutes left in the period. The Stars pressed so hard in the final minute of the period it felt like they’d pulled Oettinger for an extra attacker, but Rinne and the Preds were able to hold out.

Järnkrok helped rescue the Preds from an extremely dangerous turnover behind the net, and then Denis Gurianov high-sticked Roman Josi and drew blood, leading to another Preds power play. The Stars’ penalty kill kept aggressively clearing the puck, keeping the Preds from getting set up at all. By the end of the first power play it was starting to feel like Pekka Rinne was the Predators player who’d handled the puck the most.

While Cousins rang iron toward the end of the second minor, the Predators did not score. Gurianov, just out of the box, got a breakaway and almost scored for the Stars despite Forsberg’s best efforts, but Rinne was able to make the save. The Stars continued to play in desperation mode, leaving the Predators absolutely scrambling in their own end at the halfway mark of the period. This time their reprieve came in the form of a Roman Josi breakaway; Josi passed to Arvidsson, who didn’t score but did make Oettinger cover the puck.

It was, again, only a temporary reprieve. The Stars continued to press furiously, and Faksa broke Rinne’s shutout with 7:30 left in regulation. It was a weird goal—Faksa was falling over at the time he took the shot. Jason Dickinson checked Josi facefirst into the boards while he was bending over, but the refs missed the boarding call and did call Ryan Johansen’s retaliation, putting the Stars on the power play just after their goal.

A Preds skater bailed the Preds out on the penalty kill while Rinne was down, but the Stars scored seconds later. There was a weird situation with the net coming off its moorings as the goal was scored—the net has not been at all solid this game—but the referees determined that it didn’t matter.

The last two minutes have not impressed me with the refereeing. The missed call on Dickinson was egregious—from what we saw on the bench, the hit drew more blood as Josi’s lip split against the boards, and I’m never happy about any hit making contact with Josi’s head regardless—and the call about the net seemed odd beyond that. Technically the goal should probably have counted, but Rinne was impeded in his ability to make a save by the fact of the loose peg; he tried to push off the post to get across and instead the net came loose. I’m not willing to blame that goal on Rinne; I do believe he would have had it if the net had been properly anchored.

Viktor Arvidsson drew a penalty moments later as Gurianov headed back to the box. but the Preds were unable to get more breathing room by scoring. The Stars killed the penalty and went back on the attack, pulling Oettinger with two minutes left, and were able to tie the game on a goal by Jason Robertson.

Overtime passed without a winner, and the Predators managed to get the win in the shootout thanks to goals from Forsberg and Josi, and two big saves from Pekka Rinne.

OTF’s Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Mikael Granlund — phenomenal effort and absolutely key to the Preds’ play this game. I’m not penalizing him for that goalie interference.
  2. Calle Järnkrok — the goal was good, but the defensive effort was also good.
  3. Eeli Tolvanen — all things considered, probably the player who sparked the most joy watching him.

Three Thoughts:

  1. The Stars have been bad this season, but I was still impressed by the Predators’ resiliency in the second period. Having a goal called back has usually been crushing for this team; weirdly, between the Florida game earlier this week and tonight, it may be that they’re finally figuring out that if they did it once they can do it again, instead of feeling like it was their last chance to score and they’d lost it. As for the last seven minutes of the third period, less good. To some extent I really do feel like there’s only so much that can be done, but at the same time the Predators’ record does not incline me to be charitable.
  2. The L’Esperance play really underscores how much the Predators need another goalie they’re willing to use. Again, I don’t know if the solution is a trade—it shouldn’t be a trade for significant assets—but either being prepared to use Kasimir Kaskisuo or picking up another backup off waivers would be something.
  3. Eeli Tolvanen is a major bright spot this season, and for the organization’s future. Whether the game is good or bad, he’s fun to watch and should be sticking around, however the rebuild goes. He was smart off the puck as well as great with it tonight.
  4. On a related note, congratulations to Rem Pitlick on his first NHL point!