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Nashville Predators 4, Florida Panthers 1: Saros, Fourth Line Shine in Crucial Win

Praise be to Juice.

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

The Nashville Predators began the final two-game series of the season against the Florida Panthers with plenty of playoff implications on the line; for the visiting Panthers, they could clinch a playoff spot with any result besides a regulation loss. For Nashville, a win would help keep the Predators ahead of the Dallas Stars for the fourth spot in the Discover Central Division. Juuse Saros and Chris Dreidger started in goal for Nashville and Florida, respectfully, as the Predators topped the Panthers, 4-1.

First Period

Yakov Trenin provided the first offensive chance of the game for Nashville, poking the puck away from a Panther defender and finding himself on a breakaway. While the Russian forward failed to shoot on net, the opportunity was a symptom of the pressure Nashville was putting on the Cats early in the first period. This came to a pause when newly acquired center Sam Bennett rebounded a puck off of his skate and into the net for Florida, giving the Panthers the early lead.

Thankfully for Nashville, Panthers defenseman MacKenzie Weegar would be called for interference on the subsequent Predators possession after the goal. With the Predators on the power play, Mikael Granlund made quick work of the man-advantage, putting a rebound past Dreidger less than 30 seconds into the power play to tie the game at one.

What followed was a physical sequence of hockey that was highlighted by Tanner Jeannot brawling with Weegar in front of the net in the middle of play; no penalties were served for this. Later, Florida began its’ first power play chance of the night, thanks to a high-sticking call on Granlund. Nashville held its’ ground, and prevented the Panthers from taking back the lead.

The rest of the period played out as a high-octane slug fest. Nashville generated a handful of high-danger chances, but couldn’t seem to finish the job; the fourth line had to be the star of the period, creating chance after chance in front of the Panthers net. While the team couldn’t find the back of the net, a goal was inevitable if Nashville could maintain the level of pressure. At the end of the first, the Predators led the Panthers in shots, 13-6, but was tied in goals, 1-1.

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

Second Period

Florida came out of the locker room for the second period with a sense of urgency that Nashville was unable to match. However, this wore off as the period proceeded and the Preds’ eventually found their footing. This adjustment was completed when Erik Haula found Nick Cousins in front of the net; Cousins buried the shot, and Nashville had its’ first lead of the night.

Soon after the goal, Florida was given a chance to respond after Erik Gudbranson was called for a high-sticking penalty. The Predators stayed aggressive on the penalty kill, even garnering a break-away opportunity for Calle Jarnkrok, and finished the two minute penalty still holding the lead. Despite the stop, Nashville would be operating from its’ own zone for much of the rest of the period.

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

Midway through the second, Bennett vied for his second goal of the night, waeving through the Nashville defense to find himself in front of the net with only Saros to beat; in his first big moment of the period, Saros stood tall and snuffed out the opportunity to maintain Nashvilles’ lead. Despite the stop, the period would not get any easier for the Finnish goaltender; Florida would finish the second with a 22-5 lead in shots for the period.

With five minutes to go in the period, Florida would swap Dreidger out for goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky; while the reason for doing so is unclear, the change had no impact on Saros. He would be peppered with shots until the final buzzer by the Panthers, but Saros stood on his head to keep Nashville’s lead intact. By the end of the period, Nashville was still leading 2-1; however, some offense would be needed from the home team if it wanted to leave the building with two points.

Third Period

In a pivotal twenty minutes of hockey that will have massive repercussions on the playoff race, the third period was opened with a scary scene; Ben Harpur’s back caught the edge of an opened door on Florida’s bench. After being on the ice for a few minutes, he was able to skate to the bench and head to the locker room.

Once the game got going again, Nashville made a statement early; Matt Duchene found Haula in front of the net on a nasty backhand pass, and Haula finished the play off with a goal. Less than five minutes into the third period, Nashville had rebounded from a shaky second period and pushed the lead to two.

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

Soon after the goal, Mattias Ekholm and Frank Vatrano were both charged with minor penalties; this sent the game to a four-on-four period. Neither team was able to score, and the game returned to five-on-five; it was around this time that fans in Bridgestone Arena got the news that Dallas had beat Carolina in overtime. With two points for Dallas, the Predators game became absolutely monumental. Thankfully for Preds fans, the team was ready for the task at hand; Jeannot sent the puck towards the net off of a pass from Colton Sissons, and Trenin tipped the shot past Bobrovsky to give Nashville a three-goal lead.

With a little under five minutes to go in the game, Nashville was gifted yet another power play from a slashing call on Keith Yandle. The Preds’ failed to convert on the man-advantage, but the two minutes spent in Florida’s zone was nearly as helpful to the team.

Saros would face a few more threats in the last two minutes, but Florida would be unable to score. As the Bridgestone faithful rose to their feet, the Nashville Predators closed out a 4-1 victory in one of the most important games of the season. Same time tomorrow?

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

OTFs Three Stars of the Game

  1. Juuse Saros- One of the best outings I’ve seen from Juice this season. He kept Nashville afloat in the second period, and closed it out in the third.
  2. Erik Haula- A goal and an assist on the night, and seemed to be in the right places at the right times all game long.
  3. Nick Cousins- Scored the game-winning goal.

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