Nashville Predators 2, Minnesota Wild 1: Saros steals another W
Goals from two former Central Division rivals, now in gold, sealed the win for the Preds.
After a nailbiter of a win over the New York Rangers, the Nashville Predators were hoping to build on that victory to help turn their season around. The Minnesota Wild, meanwhile, weren’t in nearly as much trouble coming in to the night. Ultimately, the team that needed the win more got it—not always the case.
The game started slowly, with neither team generating much offense. The first real excitement was when Eeli Tolvanen was called for hooking just under three minutes into the period. While the Wild’s power play got some good puck movement going during the power play, the Preds were mostly able to keep them from getting in close, and killed off the penalty without too much hard work for Juuse Saros.
Invigorated by their successful penalty kill, the Preds set up in the offensive zone. While they were able to spend a good piece of time there, the Wild mostly kept them to the outside, with Matt Duchene setting up one of the best chances of the sequence, and the fourth line later managing an extended sequence that left the Minnesota defenders exhausted. Marc-André Fleury put the puck out of play, giving the Wild a much-needed break.
However, a moment later, the Wild’s Marco Rossi took a hooking penalty of his own, giving the Preds their first chance on the power play. Fleury had to withstand an absolute barrage of shots late in the power play, but withstand them he did, and the Wild held on.
Things began to turn in the Predators’ favor after that, with a Nino Niederreiter goal followed with another Preds power play, this one courtesy of Sam Steel introducing his stick to Ryan McDonagh’s face. While Fleury made the first couple of saves on the Wild’s penalty kill, Duchene managed to cap off a very nice passing sequence with a bar-down goal to put the Preds up by two.
At that point, the Wild finally began pushing back. Jake Middleton and Cole Smith dropped the gloves and took their seats for five minutes. The Predators did manage a brief stint in the offensive zone, with Tanner Jeannot powering through the Wild and almost managing a goal. One of the Wild defenders pushed the net off the moorings and didn’t get caught; Fleury got the credit.
The Wild counterattacked, with Steel grazing Saros and hostilities breaking out as a consequence. Ryan Johansen was called for a double-minor for high-sticking, the Steel contact wasn’t called, and while the Johansen penalty was reviewed it held. Some valiant penalty killing from the Preds, including a few shorthanded attempts and some major saves by Saros, held the lead through intermission.
The second period started with a Preds chance and then a fight between Jeremy Lauzon and Marcus Foligno. The Wild had a few chances of their own, and then took a too many men penalty. The Preds’ penalty kill made some strong, aggressive moves, keeping the Wild in their own zone for stretches of time and seriously lowering the threat the Wild were able to generate.
Still, the Wild continued to attack after the teams returned to even strength. The Predators struggled to clear the zone on an extended Wild shift, with Saros forced to scramble, until the puck was blocked out of play. The balance remained slightly tipped in the Wild’s favor, but with 3:43 remaining, Rossi skated into Saros and was called for goalie interference.
However, Duchene took an interference penalty halfway through the Preds’ power play, and then—with the four-on-four about to expire—the Wild took a too many men penalty of their own. Neither team scored during any of this special teams action, and the period ended with ten seconds remaining on the Wild’s final penalty, with a real sense of “or is it?”
Former Nashville Predator Freddy Gaudreau got the Wild onto the board seconds into the third period, just after the penalty expired, and that seemed to take the air out of the room. Matt Dumba took a penalty for shooting the puck over the glass, but the Preds were unable to convert, despite a good try from Filip Forsberg.
Then it was the Wild’s turn for a fruitless power play, as Jeremy Lauzon was called for high-sticking Matt Boldy. The Predators were able to get the kill, with a dramatic sliding block from Roman Josi capping it off, and the teams returned to even strength. The Wild continued to press, trying to make up the rest of their lost ground.
Tension continued to rise as the Wild tried to get a second goal. The Predators were almost completely unable to get back into the Wild’s zone, yielding shot after shot and just trying to mitigate the damage.
Very late in the period, the refs missed Dante Fabbro taking an elbow to the face, which was not ideal. The Wild pulled Fleury right after that, setting up another nervewracking DZ sequence for the Preds. Joel Eriksson-Ek got a great chance, which Saros was able to stop. Forsberg tried for the empty net and missed, putting the Preds back in the defensive zone after the icing with just over a minute to go.
With seconds remaining and the crowd roaring, Forsberg managed a proper clear, which allowed for a line change and ran out the rest of the clock. As the buzzer sounded, a fracas broke out on the ice.