Nashville Predators - 3, Buffalo Sabres - 4: Emotion and execution lift Sabres over the Preds

McCarron scores again, but the Preds were outplayed through much of the game.

The Nashville Predators took on the Buffalo Sabres in Buffalo tonight. The Predators, who need to collect as many points as possible with a challenging April schedule, are jockeying for playoff position in a tight Central division, and tonight’s match up felt like a “must win” for the Preds.

The Buffalo Sabres entered the game having earned points in nine of their last ten games. The team had emotional energy on their side as the Sabres raised a banner before puck drop in honor of play-by-play legend Rick Jeanneret who is retiring after this season - his 51st season calling Sabres games.

Buffalo shocked Nashville in their last match up at Bridgestone Arena in January, beating the Predators 4-1. The Predators would need a strong performance tonight to win over an emotional and steadily improving Sabres team.

Period One

We didn't have to wait long for the action to get started in this game. Buffalo logged the first shot on net just a minute and a half into the period, but a turnover by Matt Benning in the defensive zone resulted in the first goal of the game for Buffalo as Peyton Krebs buried a rebound past Juuse Saros at 2:14.

The Sabres rode the energy of that first goal until the Predators’ top line, who had been unusually quiet in recent games, evened the game at one on a rebound by Filip Forsberg at 4:32.

The top line of Buffalo answered back quickly with a slot shot by Tage Thompson at 6:58, reenergizing the sell out crowd at KeyBank Center.

Shortly after that goal, Yakov Trenin’s stick got tangled up in Jakob Bryson’s skates, and the Sabres headed on the power play at 7:14. The first shot in the two minutes was a shorthanded chance by Tanner Jeannot. The Sabres did have some looks on the power play, but Juuse Saros handled the puck easily, and the teams returned to five a side.

The pace of the game continued to be nearly frenetic. The Sabres pressured the Predators each time they attempted to clear the puck out of the defensive zone and often created a turnover. One of those turnovers resulted in Tage Thomspon’s second goal of the period at 13:22, although the puck bounced off of Tanner Jeannot’s stick past Saros.

The Predators needed to interrupt the Sabres’ momentum. The Predators established possession in the offensive zone after strong forechecking by Eeli Tolvanen and Michael McCarron. McCarron headed to the net front and tipped in a shot by Matt Benning to bring the Predators within one at 17:23.

With less than a minute to go in an offensively explosive period, the Predators tied the game on a goal by Jeremy Lauzon, his first as a Nashville Predator.

After a slow start to the period, the Predators entered the first intermission with the game tied up 3-3.

Period Two

The second period started off with more offensive pressure as Juuse Saros managed to corral a bouncing puck on net. Play went back and forth until Tage Thompson was called for a trip on Roman Josi at 3:32, and Nashville had their first power play opportunity of the night. Neither the first nor second power play units could get a shot on net, and the two minute opportunity passed the Predators by.

Play continued back and forth with both teams relying on their forecheck to drive offense. The Sabres seemed to control the neutral zone, interrupting the Predators transition game.

At 12:53 the Predators were called for too many men on the ice giving the Sabres their second power play chance. Victor Olofsson cashed in on the man advantage at 14:25 giving Buffalo the lead once again.

The Predators continued to struggle to cleanly exit the defensive zone giving Buffalo several dangerous chances in front of Saros. Nashville had a brief flurry of chances as the period wound down, but the teams headed into the locker rooms with the score 4-3.

Third Period

Nashville appeared to switch up the forward lines just a bit to start the third period. Juuse Saros was called on early to make saves on two Sabres breakaway chances. Nashville finally established more time in the offensive zone halfway through the period, but didn’t have many high danger chances. The middle of the period was back and forth with neither team gaining an offensive advantage.

Luke Kunin had a chance on a breakaway with a little over five minutes remaining in the game, but Anderson was able to brush it away. Saros made another great save to keep the Predators within one, and Nashville raced back with another shot on goal.

With two minutes left, Nashville went empty net and the Predators brought on an extra attacker. Buffalo missed a few empty net opportunities, and Nashville had two chances in net front scrambles, but in the end the Sabres won this on 4-3.

Three Things:

  1. What is with the slow starts lately? The Nashville Predators are turning into that aunt you lie to about the start time of a family event because otherwise she will show up an hour late. This team needs to be ready to bring their best play from puck drop to final buzzer. Digging out of a slow start won’t be easy with so many challenging match ups coming down the stretch.
  2. The Predators were out-Predatored. Buffalo flummoxed the Preds with a taste of their own medicine - active forechecking, hard hitting pressure, limiting space -  resulting in turnovers and shot opportunities. It took Nashville until the third period to get to their game, and by that point it was too late.
  3. Clean up that passing. Nashville has struggled lately with clean passing in transition, and tonight was no exception. Players just weren’t connecting with the puck, and Buffalo took advantage of every loose puck left out there.