Nashville Predators 4, Florida Panthers 7: Panthers Overwhelm Collapsing Preds Defense

Don’t let the scoreboard deceive you; this one is on anyone but Juice.

The Nashville Predators had no time to celebrate their 4-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on Monday; the Dallas Stars had defeated the Carolina Hurricanes on the same night, which put all of the pressure right back on the boys in gold as they battled the Panthers again on Tuesday. The meeting with Dallas in Music City on Friday loomed large, but Nashville needed every point it could get; that started with a win against Florida. Nashville rolled with the same lines as Mondays’ game, and Juuse Saros started in goal for the second night in a row, but the Predators fell to the Panthers in a high-scoring game, 7-4.

First Period

The physical nature of last nights’ game reared its’ head early in the first period; Luke Kunin and Eeli Tolvanen both delivered nasty hits on the boards which drew the applause of the Bridgestone attendees. Besides the hits, both teams struggled to find consistent offensive-zone presence. That ended with fourteen minutes to go in the first period.

Nashville established a possession in Florida’s zone, and Mattias Ekholm sent the puck across the blue line to Ryan Ellis, who sent an absolute cannon at Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Kunin helped screen the shot, and the Predators had an early lead.

Shortly after the opening goal, Ben Harpur was sent to the box for a high-sticking call that sent Nashville to its’ first penalty kill of the night. Panthers center Alexsander Barkov, who had earned a point in each of his last three games before last nights’ affair, got back on track with a power-play snipe that tied the game at one.

Just as he did last night, Saros came up huge on multiple saves that kept the Predators from falling behind; if he wasn’t in the Vezina discussion, he’s trying his hardest to land himself there. Despite Saros firmly residing in heat-check mode, the level of pressure Nashville allowed Florida to apply in the first period was not going to be sustainable if the Preds’ wanted two points; the Cats finished the opening twenty with a 21-8 lead in shots.

With 2:50 left in the first period, Tolvanen earned Nashville its’ first man-advantage opportunity of the night, drawing a tripping penalty on Gustav Forsling. The good guys would be unable to convert on the power play, and that would be it for the first period. Nashville left the first period tied, thanks entirely to Juuse Saros.

Second Period

Needing an offensive burst to establish a tone for the second period, the Predators instead got called for a penalty; a hooking call on Ryan Johansen would put Florida on its’ second power play of the night, having scored on the first. Once again, the Panthers made Nashville pay. After passing and weaving through the Predator penalty kill and opening up the ice, Anthony Duclair found a wide open net from the side of the net and buried it.

The going would get no easier for Nashville in the early stages of the second period. Mikael Granlund would go to the box just 20 seconds after the Duclair goal on an interference call. At a turning point in the game, a successful penalty kill was simply imperative. Thankfully for Preds’ fans, the home team would get that stop. Now, answering Floridas’ goal was the task at hand. Kunin had Nashville covered; with a little over 13 minutes left in the period, the 23 year-old forward put home a rebound from Calle Jarnkroks’ shot, and the game was once again tied.

Following the goal, Matt Duchene caught one of the more gnarly high sticks I’ve seen this season, and that sent Juho Lammikko to the box and Nashville to the power play. Florida opened the two minutes with a flurry of shots at Saros (yes, NASHVILLE is the team with the extra skater), but the Predators eventually found their footing and generated a couple of shots on Bobrovsky before the power play timed out.

Soon after the power play wrapped up, the “Herd Line” struck again. Rookie Taylor Jeannot found the back of the net on yet another gritty, net-front goal off of an assist from Roman Josi. This assist from the captain pushed him past Shea Weber for the most career points by a defenseman in Predators history, a feat that earned him the applause of the Bridgestone faithful.

Unfortunately for Josi, this would not be the last goal he would be involved with in the period. With time winding down and 2:30 to go in the second, Barkov looked to make a pass to Jonathan Huberdeau across the front of Saros. Josi blocked the pass, but in turn also deflected the puck past Saros and into the net. Barkov would be credited for his second goal of the night, but there was still time on the clock. In the last push of the second period, Ryan Ellis gave the Preds’ fans watching a two-in-one Frosty-Biscuit combo by sending his second rocket of the night past Bobrovsky. With the late goal, Nashville would enter the final period of play ahead by one; it would be a fever-pitched race to the finish.

Third Period

Looking for a spark out of the gate, Florida tried to create one by swapping goalies; out went Bobrovsky, in came rookie Spencer Knight for the Panthers. It took them five minutes, but the Panthers eventually found the tying goal they were looking for. After a pandemonium of chaos in front of Saros, featuring three different Panthers in the blue ice, the puck eventually found its’ way across the red line and into the net. Owen Tippett was credited with the goal, and we now had a 15-minute sprint to the finish line with playoff implications on the line. Grab your popcorn.

Florida made the first move after the tying goal; Frank Vatrano found himself in open ice, and slung a laser past the far side of Saros to push the Panthers ahead by one. To make matters worse, Matt Duchene quickly followed the goal with a trip to the penalty box to send Nashville to yet another penalty kill. The Predators killed off the penalty, but the team still trailed by a goal.

Later in the period, Yakov Trenin got called for a tripping penalty; with seven minutes to go, Nashville had to kill another penalty. For the third time tonight, Florida made the Predators pay on the man-advantage. Barkov set Huberdeau beautifully for a wide-open shot, and the Predators now had a two-goal deficit to overcome.

As time ran out on the final period of play, John Hynes pulled Saros to bring on the extra man. Despite some solid offensive-zone time and a handful of chances, Huberdeau got tripped on a breakaway to the empty net. This gave Florida a goal, and that snuffed out any chances the Predators had of making a comeback.

After splitting the final series of the year with Florida, the game against Dallas later this week becomes as close to a play-in to the playoffs as a team can get. See you on Friday, folks.

OTFs Three Stars of the Game

  1. Juuse Saros- I truly cannot say enough about Juice. This team gave him every opportunity to let this game become a blowout, and Saros stood tall and kept Nashville in it. He deserves more help than he’s getting.
  2. Taylor Jeannot- Look at the kid go! Another great night for the “Herd Line,” and Jeannot is establishing himself as a mainstay in the lineup.
  3. Ryan Ellis- Two huge goals at big moments for the defenseman.

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