Nashville Predators 4, New Jersey Devils 2: Preds hold out against late push

The Preds needed this one.

The Nashville Predators finished off their homestand tonight against the New Jersey Devils. Both teams had had a rough few games heading into the evening’s matchup, and both were looking to improve their performances.

The Preds got out to a strong start, mostly keeping play in the Devils’ end and moving it quickly back up the ice when the Devils went on the attack. With six and a half minutes elapsed, Andreas Johnsson was called for boarding Eeli Tolvanen (who fortunately seemed all right), but eleven seconds into the power play Matt Duchene took a hooking penalty of his own.

Still, the Preds went back on the attack, and Roman Josi drew first blood with a nice goal off a Ryan Johansen pass. Seconds later, Mikael Granlund almost added another, but the combination of a good save by Jonathan Bernier and a slashing penalty by PK Subban kept the puck out. Bernier had a better save seconds later, as Duchene got out of the box, collected a lovely pass from Granlund, and got stopped by a quick glove.

The teams returned to five a side without further score, but with seven minutes remaining Filip Forsberg was also called for slashing, and we went back to special teams, with the Devils getting their first power play chance of the game.

They weren’t able to get much of anything going on the power play itself, but started to build momentum as the period wound closer to a close. The buzzer came at a good time, as the Devils had started to really pressure.

The break allowed the Preds to reset and get back on the attack, and after a few minutes, Philip Tomasino scored to put the Preds up 2-0. After a little more of a push by the Preds, the Devils finally wrested control back, only to lose it as Dougie Hamilton was called for kneeing a little less than halfway through the period. The Devils were able to kill off the penalty and get a good chance right after, but Juuse Saros remained alert and the Preds went back on the attack.

With around seven minutes remaining in the second period, the Devils started a real sequence of sustained pressure, the first noticeable one of the game. Tomasino ended that sequence by going end to end but shot just wide of the net—still giving the Preds a break.

Play shifted back and forth after that as the period wound down, with the Devils getting some time and Bernier having to make a few more saves, including his second great one of the period on Mattias Ekholm. Still, once again the Devils finished the period relatively strong.

Heading into the third, the Devils had to have felt confident; as the ESPN+ commentary team pointed out, they’ve been very good at coming from behind in the third this season to take at least a point—unusual, given that their offense has actually been better when they’re not trailing.

Still, confidence matters too, and the Devils came out strong again to start the third—not just with shots and icetime, but with actually getting more dangerous chances on Juuse Saros, who’d had a relatively light workload up to that point.

The Preds got their first shot on goal of the period 6:45 in, as Mikael Granlund put the puck past Bernier to put the Preds up 3-0. Duchene did the setup for that goal with a great pass as he was left completely unattended behind the Devils’ net. That’s not so much a goal Bernier is going to want back (though, goalies being goalies, he probably is) as a goal the entire Devils team probably wants back.

Still, about five minutes after that, Johnsson ended Saros’s shutout, bringing the Devils back within two, as the Preds were also caught off guard—not puck-watching like the Devils on Granlund’s goal, but way out of position—in the defensive zone.

The Devils continued to push after their goal for a bit, though after that possession began to shift back and forth. Bafflingly, Lindy Ruff didn’t pull Bernier during a long Devils OZ shift with less than three minutes to go, and didn’t pull him until after a Devils DZ faceoff with under two minutes to go (though he did wait for the team to get possession before the pull).

However, once Bernier was out, Alexandre Carrier cleared the puck into the empty net almost from his own goal line, putting the Preds up 4-1 with his second of the season with 1:15 remaining in the third. He’s had a great year; it’s good to see him getting rewarded on the scoreboard as well.

That empty-netter proved big, as Tomas Tatar made a sharp play to bring them back within two with :27.4 left. With just a couple of seconds left, one of the Preds was called for a delayed penalty, but they didn’t touch up before time ran out.

The Devils definitely took over the game in the third, but the Preds had built enough of a strong start—both in terms of the score and in terms of the amount of work the skaters and Saros had had to do in their own end—that they were able to get away with it tonight. Hopefully they learned from both the good and the bad before tomorrow’s game against the Colorado Avalanche.

OTF’s Three Stars of the Game:

3. Mattias Ekholm — great at both ends of the ice.

2. Ryan Johansen — played an incredibly strong defensive game tonight and set up two of the Preds’ goals to boot.

1. Alexandre Carrier — great defensive play, good offensive play, and that empty-netter was a thing of beauty.