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Nashville Predators 2, New Jersey Devils 4: Fading down the stretch

With several former Predator captains in attendance, Nashville welcomed the New Jersey Devils to Bridgestone Arena Tuesday night. Just a day after forward Phil Tomasino was sent to the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals and Mark Jankowski and Egor Afanasyev were recalled, the Predators were able to take an early lead on special teams, however, an overwhelming New Jersey offense, offensive mistakes and a review to take away a Preds goal put the Predators in a familiar position – giving up a 3rd period lead.

First Period

Nashville and New Jersey came out to a fast start in the first frame, with teams trading a couple of shots each on net before the Devils’ Tomas Nosek was called for high-sticking Cody Glass, putting the Predators on an early power play. Although it took most of the two-minutes, the power play unit was able to apply constant pressure throughout the man advantage, leading to yet another Ryan O’Reilly power play goal – his 12th of the season (tied for 3rd in the NHL).

Unfortunately, the offensive spark the Predators started the game with faded away quickly – a Jeremy Lauzon tripping penalty put the Devils on the power play, and while New Jersey did not convert, the Devils would generate the next 13 consecutive shots on goal, ending the period with a total of 22 to Nashville’s 12. Despite that, Juuse Saros looked solid early facing a barrage of Devils shots, and Nashville went into the first intermission leading 1-0.

Second Period

The Predators would stem the offensive tide somewhat to start the second period, getting their own chance in the first minute. Unfortunately, a beautiful stretch pass to Yakov Trenin nearly becomes a goal – Trenin is able to draw a hooking penalty, but Nashville would get called for too many men on the ice, leading to a 4 on 4 that should have been a power play.

It doesn’t take long for the Devils to capitalize this time – with both Jack and Luke Hughes on the ice, the Devils tie the game at 1 less than a minute later with a rocket shot that banked into the net behind Juuse Saros.

When it rains, it pours, as Nashville attempted to counter during the remainder of the 4 on 4 penalty, which led to what appeared to be a Luke Evangelista goal. Initially a non-call on the ice, the officials went to the video review where it seemed fairly obviously in the net and over the red line. Toronto didn’t agree, and Nashville’s attempt to re-take the lead stalled, much to the disbelief of everyone in the building.

Nashville seemed to use the non-call on the ice as further fuel for the fire, as the Predators continued to push New Jersey and goaltender Nico Dawes, playing his second game in as many days. With 12 minutes remaining in the second, Nashville would take the lead for certain this time, as great transition defense from Roman Josi led to a Tommy Novak goal, and the Predators led 2-1.

Later in the period, Luke Schenn would pick up a penalty, possibly saving a Jack Hughes breakaway goal, and while the Predators were able to kill yet another power play, the home team would not control most of the remainder of the period, instead relying on a stellar early effort from Juuse Saros, who would save 33 of 34 in the first two periods. The Predators were able to make it to the locker room with a 2-1 lead, but momentum had shifted towards New Jersey, as fans wondered if we’d see yet another third period collapse from the Andrew Brunette Predators.

Third Period

The fans wouldn’t have to wait long to have their questions answered – just two minutes into the third, Nashville would struggle to clear the puck or maintain possession, and a turnover would lead to a Nico Hischier goal that tied the game at 2 with 17:44 remaining.

The Devils were able to slow their counter-attack somewhat after the tying goal, and Nashville would start throwing everything at the net. Unfortunately, the puck mostly didn’t get there – 14 of their 24 shot attempts were missed or blocked, and in the final six minutes of the period, all the missed opportunities culminated in a Timo Meier goal with 5:15 left, and all of a sudden, the Predators faced their first deficit with little time remaining.

Nashville would pull Juuse Saros (who finished the night an incredible 43 of 46, 2.36 goals saved above expected) for the extra man, but a final minute faceoff win by Ryan O’Reilly led to an unsure pass from Tyson Barrie to Roman Josi, which was intercepted, and Hischier would ice the game with his second of the night, Nashville trailed 4-2 with 38 seconds left. The Predators were unable to mount anything in the final seconds, and the Predators staggered to the locker room, disappointed with yet another failed effort to maintain an early lead.

Talking Points