The Nashville Predators had a rare chance to build off good play and a win with tonight’s game against the Vancouver Canucks, and they failed to do the first but managed the second for their first winning streak in North America.
The Canucks broke onto the scoresheet with just under two minutes elapsed. Ilya Mikheyev had the goal; Juuse Saros very clearly looked like he wanted to have that one back, and probably should have had it in the first place. Less than two minutes later, the Canucks capitalized on a defensive zone turnover by Jordan Gross to make it 0-2, with the goal coming from J.T. Miller. Six minutes into the period, the Preds had yet to record a shot on goal. Nino Niederreiter had the only attempt.
Saros was forced to make a few good saves during a Vancouver flurry and managed to draw a penalty for goalie interference, sending Sheldon Dries to the box at 6:08 and giving the Preds a chance to test their luck against the Canucks’ struggling penalty kill. The Preds had a few good chances, but the best chance of the power play came when J.T. Miller got a shorthanded breakaway and Saros managed to turn him away.
The power play did not give the Preds any momentum. The Canucks continued to press, with a nervewracking shot by Horvat going post and out. Matt Duchene had managed a few good looks—one on the power play that got blocked by Ethan Bear, one against the tide of the Canucks’ attack—but by and large the Preds were looking listless and ineffective.
Tanner Jeannot and Riley Stillman fought at 13:07 over a hit from Jeannot, and a few seconds later Roman Josi drew a tripping penalty, sending the Preds back to the power play. Although they didn’t score, and they didn’t really get any offense going, it did at least sap some of the Canucks’ momentum.
However, that came to a halt at 16:39, when Cole Smith swung his stick right into Quinn Hughes’s face while both were chasing the puck. Hughes collapsed, Smith went to the box, and the red-hot Vancouver power play got its first chance of the night, and Andrei Kuzmenko scored to put the Canucks up 3-0 while Ryan McDonagh watched him do it.
Now Nashville did respond, forcing Tyler Myers to hook Mikael Granlund on a breakaway. It was called as a hooking penalty, not a penalty shot; given Granlund’s shooting lately, that’s probably the better outcome for the Predators. Of course, given that the Preds spent the first 1:43 of the power play before intermission milling around ineffectively, maybe a penalty shot would have been the better choice.
They did no better after intermission. Seconds after the Preds failed to score on the hooking power play, Jeannot hit Bear from behind in open ice and got tackled by Myers. They fought; Myers was assessed an instigator penalty, and Jeannot not penalized for the hit, which—to the outrage of the Vancouver fans—gave the Preds another power play. Niederreiter made a great pass to Gross, who managed to get the puck past Demko to put the Preds on the board.
Unsurprisingly, the Preds were the next team to get penalized, as Mark Jankowski was called for interference. Saros had to make a fantastic save on a series of shots that all looked like sure goals, both towards the end of the penalty kill and after Jankowski was released while the Preds struggled to get a clear.
A few minutes later, with the Preds still not managing any pushback, Michael McCarron opted to give the Canucks power play another chance as he got just one more shove in during a post-whistle scuffle. While the penalty killers managed to get the puck into the offensive zone, Miller managed his second breakaway of the night, and Saros came up with his second massive save on Miller of the night in response.
The Canucks continued to amp up the pressure, with Saros forced to make save after save, and Yakov Trenin took a high-sticking penalty with around 20 seconds left in the penalty kill. Saros killed off the rest of the McCarron penalty, then the Trenin one, and the Preds finally got a break as Conor Garland was immediately called for roughing against Jeannot. Granlund hit a post, but that and a brief scramble as the teams returned to 5v5 were probably Nashville’s best looks.
Jeannot almost brought the Preds within one with a little under four minutes left in the second period, but Demko made the save. At the other end, the Preds got hemmed in their own zone for almost two full minutes, including a stretch where Saros was knocked over and left sprawling on the ice with the puck live, but the score remained 3-1 Canucks. The Predators then withstood another late flurry and escaped to intermission.
A little over a minute into the period, Gross scored his second of the night to make it 3-2. At 2:41, Niederreiter scored on his own rebound to tie the game.
That livened things up considerably. The teams traded chances, with Saros and Demko both tested. The Predators had finally gotten their feet under them, though by no means with the same unstoppable force as the Canucks had showed early. Despite the Preds’ improved showing, the Canucks were by no means out, and around halfway through the period started to push back. Saros continued to be severely tested, including on yet another Miller chance—a partial breakaway only, this time.
On balance, the Preds had the better of the chances in the third, and the comeback was impressive from a team that’s struggled in the third period for a while. Duchene had an impressive showing in OT, but no joy, and the game headed to a shootout. While Duchene hadn’t managed the OT score, he did have the only goal in the shootout to complete the comeback win.
OTF’s Three Stars of the Game
3. Matt Duchene — He didn’t make it onto the regular scoresheet at all, but he tried pretty darn hard to, and that shootout goal was badly needed. Nino Niederreiter had a much better game on paper, and scored the game-tying goal that sent it to overtime, but Duchene just looked like he was playing well tonight.
2. Juuse Saros — It was a rough start and a great finish. This easily could have been another 7-4 loss, or worse, and seeing Saros buckle down and start stopping everything was great.
1. Jordan Gross — We all knew this was coming, and by “this” I mean “OTF’s first star” and not “Jordan Gross, undrafted player, becoming the first Nashville Predators rookie defender with a two-goal game”. (Gross is technically a year too old to qualify as a rookie, but if he were younger, he would be one.)