The puck dropped on a game that’s going to be massive for Nashville’s playoff hopes, and the Nashville Predators struggled to maintain possession in the first few minutes. The Anaheim Ducks would effectively keep the puck away from Nashville until 1:30 in, when Nashville was able to get a shot on goal on the slumping John Gibson. The Predators showed some life early with their physicality, but the opening minutes of the contest would see the Preds chasing the puck.
Coach Hynes would put the Predators on a more aggressive approach, with tenacious forechecking in hopes of creating offensive zone turnovers. This led to the first sustained Nashville possession that led to Tanner Jeannot hitting the post. Possession would bounce back and forth between the two clubs, eventually leading to a solid save by Saros just 6 minutes in.
Michael McCarron would get another solid attempt on Gibson - once again hitting the post - the second time in the period for the Preds. The line of Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen created some excellent chances, but were unable to get a shot on net despite that. Nick Cousins would lead the team to a fast break opportunity, but he would draw a penalty and send Nashville to it’s first power play.
The power play would start slow, but the first unit kept possession. Finally, the trio of Mikael Gralund, Filip Forsberg would connect on a beautiful passing play, and Matt Duchene’s 28th goal of the season gave Nashville the 1-0 lead.
Not to be outdone, thirty-six seconds later Tanner Jeannot would break into the OZ and seemingly scored a dagger to send the Preds up 2-0, but Anaheim challenged the goal on the basis that Nashville was offsides prior to the goal. The video evidence didn’t seem to be conclusive, but the NHL officiating crew decided otherwise, and the game returned to 1-0 with 8:30 left.
Despite losing the goal, Nashville’s pace quickened and several lines would get good possessions off of turnovers and forechecking. With just under three minutes later, the hard work would pay off, as a turnover created by Mattias Ekholm led to a two on one opportunity and he connected with Michael McCarron for a Nashville goal...
...Or so it would seem. After the review, the puck never crossed the line, so once again (for the second time this period), a Nashville goal would be taken off the board. McCarron’s would-be goal was reduced to third shot on the Anaheim post of the game. But once again, Nashville kept up the pace, getting several high-quality chances. The period would end with a weird sequence with the puck under Filip Forsberg - who was sitting on the ice - and players just kind of pushing him around waiting for time to expire. A pretty solid metaphor for how this game has gone so far.
The second period would start much like the first, going back and forth with possession until Forsberg and Johansen would combine for a shot and rebound attempt that was stopped by John Gibson. The aggressive and physical play that started after the first goal was taken off the board continued into this period, and Nashville would control pace early.
The strong start to the period included another great possession by Forsberg and Duchene, each already with a point in the game. A scary turnover led to a 1 on 0, but Saros made yet another fantastic save, but momentum would slowly shift in Anaheim’s favor.
At 12:29, a smart play by Nashville led to a couple of shot attempts was ruined by Michael McCarron taking an obvious cross-checking penalty. Nashville would be on the penalty kill against one of the top power play teams in the league. After a solid save by Saros, Tanner Jeannot and Colton Sissons would get a two on one shorthanded chance, but was broken up. More importantly, Nashville had slowed the Anaheim first unit down and the second unit would struggle as well, with Nashville getting a couple of clears to successfully kill the Ducks power play.
The success of the PK led to a couple of quick chances at 5 on 5, one by McCarron, freshly out of the penalty box and Gibson would be forced to make a couple saves. At eight and a half minutes remaining, a careless turnover would lead to another odd man rush, but Saros would make the save, and once again, Duchene would connect with Forsberg and the Swede would collect his 28th goal of the season, tying him with Duchene for the team lead. Nashville led 2-0 with 8:10 remaining. Both Forsberg and Duchene would collect their second point of the game.
Anaheim started to find their game, getting a series of sustained offensive possessions, but Saros could not be solved. But Anaheim would keep trying, and a turnover would give the Ducks yet another high-danger opportunity, but Saros made the glove save look easy. However, even that save paled in comparison to one made by Saros two minutes later, closing off a seemingly wide-open net.
Nashville finally would stem the tide after Anaheim was called for interference on Matt Benning, and Nashville would head back to the power play with 2:19 remaining.
The first minute of the power play was dominated by the Nashville first unit, getting several shots on goal. However, the second unit couldn’t get started, registering zero attempts, and the power play ended. Shortly after the penalty was killed, McCarron and Anderson would drop the gloves with 12.9 seconds remaining, and the Predators headed to the locker room up 2-0 through two periods.
Nashville started the period with a few chances in Anaheim territory, but couldn’t get the puck on net. Anaheim would get a handful of chances themselves, but Saros continued to stand tall. Nick Cousins almost sent home a beautiful cross-ice pass, but wasn’t able to get position and both teams headed to the first media timeout. After the break, the Predators rolled out some new-look lines, including Mikael Granlund playing with Philip Tomasino and Nick Cousins. Nashville would continue to dominate puck possession throughout the first ten minutes. A Nick Cousins turnover would lead to Anaheims first long possession of the period with under nine minutes remaining, but Nashville was able to keep the Ducks outside. Alexandre Carrier would carry the puck in a minute later, and showed off impressive skating ability before passing to Kunin in the blue paint who was unable to get the shot before Gibson made the save.
With under six minutes remaining, the Ducks would convert an odd dump-in and Adam Henrique would send home a loose puck that Saros lost track of, and the Ducks would cut their deficit in half with 5:46 remaining.
Things wouldn’t get better for the Predators, as Alexandre Carrier took a holding penalty on Troy Terry, and Nashville would head to the penalty kill with 4:48 remaining. Nashville killed the first possession and cleared the puck and Anageim would try a second with 1:30 remaining, but once again, the Predators would clear the puck. Play stopped with 55 seconds remaining, as Ekholm would try to clear the puck, hitting Sam Steel in the face. Luckily Steel was able to get off the ice under his own power, but the bleeding was immediate. Anaheim would keep their first unit on the ice after the stoppage, and the Ducks would get a final possession, getting one shot net before Nashville nearly cleared, but the Ducks retained possession. Undeterred, Nashville would kill another penalty and a scrum in the defensive zone led to a stretch pass to Colton Sissons, who streaked into the OZ during a partial line change and sent home the deciding goal from the top of the right circle, giving Nashville the 3-1 lead with 2:30 remaining.
Anaheim immediately pulled Gibson on the ensuing possession, but Nashville was able to turn the Ducks away twice, and Forsberg and Duchene connected for the third time tonight, and Duchene re-took his team lead in goals, his 29th of the season giving Nashville a 4-1 lead with 1:41 left.
The teams refused to let the game end, as Nashville would take a high-sticking penalty with 1:10 left, sending the Predators to yet another penalty kill. The Ducks would assault Saros at 6-4 with Gibson off the ice. The Ducks would get a couple of final shots on net, but nothing that challenged Saros, and the young goaltender would end the game with a final save. The Predators win 4-1, their third straight, and picked up an important two points in the playoff race.
Third Star: Filip Forsberg (1 goal, 2 assists)
Second Star: Juuse Saros (27 saves on 28 shots)
First Star: Matt Duchene (2 goals, 1 assist)