Nashville Predators 4, Calgary Flames 1: Unexpected heroes snap skid for Preds

Kevin Lankinen and Mark Jankowski made significant contributions, with help from Forsberg, Duchene, Josi, and Johansen.

The Nashville Predators continued their Canadian road trip, taking on the Calgary Flames in a game that would have to snap a losing streak for one of these teams.

Kevin Lankinen started in goal for Nashville, giving Juuse Saros a night off after a fairly brutal defensive outing on Tuesday, and Milwaukee Admirals standout Mark Jankowski stepped in on forward to replace the recently-waived Kiefer Sherwoood. However, Dante Fabbro, Eeli Tolvanen, and Cody Glass were on the scratch list, with Jordan Gross stepping in to replace Fabbro. Mark Borowiecki remained on IR.

It’s possible that having their backup goalie in net gave the Preds some of the urgency that they’d lacked. Whatever the reason, they got off to a better start. Although they didn’t start with a goal, they did start with some zone time and shots on net, and Nino Niederreiter drew an early tripping penalty.

The power play failed to impress, but it did at least keep the puck out of Nashville’s defensive zone, and the Preds continued to attack once they returned to even strength. Play slowed a little as the period continued, with the Preds failing several times to capitalize on passing opportunities or really do much to shake up the Flames’ defense.

They got another chance on the power play at 12:35 of the period, as Andrew Mangiapane was called for an illegal check to the head against Cole Smith. The Flames’ power play was much crisper and more aggressive this time, and did a great job of shutting the Preds down. Nashville did find a little more energy for the attack again as the period wound down, with some good chances from Yakov Trenin and Tanner Jeannot and from Matt Duchene.

With the period almost over, the Flames pushed back hard, successfully making their way into the Preds’ end, but Jankowski scored on the push back to give the Preds the first goal of the game with 28.6 seconds left in the period.

Instead of a successful Flames pushback to start the second, Duchene and Filip Forsberg connected on a long stretch pass to give the Preds their second goal of the game, 59 seconds into the period. A minute after that, Nashville got yet another power-play opportunity, as Dillon Dube elbowed Gross. Ryan Johansen won the faceoff and made a good play to set up Roman Josi for a goal, scored from the top of the blueline past a screening Forsberg.

Now up 3-0, the Preds swarmed the Flames’ net, forcing Jacob Markström to make a big save on Michael McCarron. Sadly, Colton Sissons got called for interference almost 200 feet from his own net, and the Flames got their first chance on the power play. The Preds’ penalty kill also looked sharp, getting clears and disrupting passes, and despite some late scares from Nazem Kadri they were able to kill the penalty off.

Forsberg and Duchene almost combined for another goal, but Markström made the save and Jonathan Huberdeau got a nerve-wracking chance on the counterattack. Still, the Preds got their feet back under them for a while. As the period continued, play became more of a back-and-forth affair, with the Flames gaining a slight edge.

Huberdeau got tripped going up the ice with no call and the arena reacted badly, which made the subsequent and unrelated penalty call against Jeremy Lauzon for holding pretty much inevitable. Huberdeau got another great chance with the skater advantage, but Lankinen made the save, and Josi had another key block just after the penalty expired. With under a minute in the period Milan Lucic hit the crossbar, then the Flames won the faceoff and pressed the attack.

Nashville made it to intermission, but barely. The Flames came out strong to start the third, and Blake Coleman scored at 1:43 to cut the Preds’ lead to two. A moment later, Lankinen just barely made a save on Lucic, bobbling the puck a little but managing to get the whistle. As the Flames’ attack continued through the first half of the period, the Preds briefly got a little pushback before Kadri goaded Mikael Granlund into a tripping penalty. Or, well, a tripping penalty was called on Granlund, anyway.

Although the Preds were able to kill that penalty off, the Flames continued to press, until Niederreiter was able to clear the puck. When Nashville made it to the offensive zone, Johansen was able to draw a roughing penalty from Nikita Zadorov, and the Preds got another look on the power play. Forsberg rang iron early, and the Preds had a few more chances, but Markström stood firm and the Flames killed off the penalty.

With 6:02 to go in the third, Lankinen had to make a massive save on a Tyler Toffoli shot, with some help from a sliding Ryan McDonagh. The Flames continued their attack, with a tired Preds team hemmed in and caught on an icing. Forsberg was eventually able to get them an offensive zone faceoff, with persistence and awareness, but before too long the Flames headed back down ice again.

With 2:20 to go, Zach Sanford blocked a Zadorov shot that knocked him off his feet in what looked like some discomfort, but he was right back out there as the Flames pulled Markström, and blocked some more shots in the process. Huberdeau had another great chance, redirecting a pinballing shot on the doorstop, but Lankinen made the save. At the other end of the ice Sissons missed the empty net by inches, but a moment later Duchene did not miss.

4-1 Preds with seconds to go, and, although the Flames tried one final shot, that held up as the final score.

OTF’s Stars of the Game:

3. Filip Forsberg — He had a well-deserved two-point night to go with consistently good and smart on-ice play.

2. Mark Jankowski — Although he played sheltered minutes, he played very well in them, and opening up the scoring for the Preds in his first game with them was a great touch.

1. Kevin Lankinen — I’m going to be seeing that Huberdeau shot right before the empty-netter in my nightmares. He had a lot of opportunities to let the game get out of hand, and he didn’t, despite what had to have been some rust.