In their pursuit of a thrilling conclusion to a rollercoaster season, the Nashville Predators took on the Columbus Blue Jackets in a road matchup. Who were the key players, what happened, and where will the team go from here? All that and more below.
It wasn’t too eventful of a first period for Nashville, largely because the majority of it was dominated by the Jackets. After a strong opening two minutes marked by a Vladislav Gavrikov penalty and some quality looks from the slot, Columbus successfully killed the resulting 4-on-5 and put the hurt on the Preds. Thankfully, Juuse Saros was up to the task, stopping all 11 shots on goal he faced with a few ten-bell saves mixed in.
Aside from winning a few board battles, the Predators didn’t get much going until late in the period. Cycles disintegrated thanks to hasty decisions, entries were smothered in a bevy of aggressive neutral zone plays, and exits failed to clear due to lackluster power behind puck movement. The sparks Nashville got came from an unlikely place; on a pair of Columbus power plays, Erik Haula took a few well-read passes the other way, albeit without anything to show for it on the scoreboard. Encouraging stuff from the free-agent signing, whose play has vastly improved recently. Still, in a game where Nashville dictating pace and play should be a given, that wasn’t good enough.
Much to the chagrin of Blue Jackets fans, the usual suspects of inability to finish and sluggish defenders reared their ugly heads. Nashville used their speed advantage along the outside to greater effect in the opening minutes of the second, kicking off a run of dominance more in line with what was expected coming into this game. The run of flourishing rush play culminated in a Filip Forsberg goal, where the flashy forward converted a single-step advantage on a Jacket to roof a shot from his rear.
With that tally, the floodgates opened. On the power play, some fantastic patience and passing from the Forsberg-Tolvanen duo across the slot produced a tantalizing rebound and a Ryan Johansen twine-tickler.
El Capitan announced his presence with a bomb through heavy traffic, capping the brilliant period off. This was Josi’s seventh tally of the year, and while he’ll be hard pressed to reach double-digit tallies it’s possible he could take his seven-year streak of 10+ goals/year to eight.
With a block of concrete dropped on the gas pedal, the Preds looked poised to control the remainder of the game heading into intermission.
Further quality play by Nashville opened the third, but alas, luck was not on the side of Juuse Saros. After pitching a shutout for two periods, a fluky Ryan Ellis own-goal ended the chance for a Krispy Kreme special. Emil Bemstrom was credited with the tally, and play resumed with a slightly different, more competitive flavor instilled.
Hey, by the way, that Bemstrom guy? Not too shabby. After a relentless shift against a turtling Preds lineup, the talented young Swede had an incredible shift and managed to find the back of the net for the second time in the period. Not great stuff from Nashville, who totally abandoned the crease and hung Juuse Saros (a notably small goalie) to cover what might as well have been the entire surface of the Earth. Extra funny? Bemstrom hadn’t scored in a hot minute. By a hot minute, I mean since March 8th ... of 2020.
Oh, and in case Nashville needed any more wake up calls, Bermstrom decided to collect headgear with a third goal (on a power play compliments of a delay of game call against Brad Richardson) and a hat trick at 15:07. Game tied.
The Predators had a grand chance to take back a lead with a power play on a high-sticking call at 16:23 on Dean Kukan. It was time to see the Preds make a statement in two minutes or less. Despite some decent looking chances, the only statement made by Nashville was “wish we hadn’t turtled earlier”.
In the final minute the Predators decided to kick it into high gear again, but with 60 seconds remaining the tension built and...nothing doing.
Why yes. Let’s go to overtime.
The trio of Johansen, Forsberg, and Josi took the ice for OT and took possession. Elvis was in the building on their first chances, so Järnkrok, Ekholm, and Granlund took their turn in OT.
The Predators kept possession much of the first half of overtime, but Merzlikins did his best Saros impression to stop the shots heading his way.
Who will come through for the Preds? I’ll give you three guesses, but pick the most handsome and likely player. That’s right—Roman Josi. At 3:24 he had had enough of this cliffhanger and sent the puck sailing past Merziklins for the win in OT.
Three Big Things
- Welp, despite the infuriating delay-of-game penalty, Brad Richardson filled in quite well on the fourth line tonight. Aside from rocking a nice analytical profile, the veteran forward had some enticing looks from the slot and produced off the rush. He’s a decent enough 13th forward and proved that he’s capable of adequately filling in for Colton Sissons, when it’s called for.
- Josi is realistically in pursuit of his 8th consecutive season with 10+ goals. Take a moment to appreciate how incredible he is, folks.
- The Predators still maintain their Jekyll and Hyde act, and it’s not gonna fly heading into the postseason. John Hynes needs to emphasize an attacking mentality when the team has a lead in the next few practices, or Nashville risks having their Chelonian tendencies bite them in the tuchus.