Nashville Predators 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 1: Saros, Josi lift Preds to win

Tanner Jeannot also scored his 19th of the season tonight.

The Nashville Predators made a brief stop home to face the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight. Both teams were working hard for playoff positioning, and that and some old bad blood promised a lively game.

The Penguins got off to a much stronger start than the Preds, bouncing the home team out of the offensive zone whenever they gained it and making Juuse Saros stay sharp. An early collision between Mattias Ekholm’s skate and Sidney Crosby’s arm sent Crosby off to the locker room in some visible discomfort, but he returned shortly.

A little less than halfway through the period, Filip Forsberg interfered with Jake Guentzel, and sadly was sent to the penalty box instead of being awarded a medal. The Preds killed the penalty off, and Forsberg got the puck as he emerged from the box, but Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith shut down the Preds’ chances.

The Preds got a chance of their own on the power play when Danton Heinen was called for a trip against Mikael Granlund. The Penguins’ penalty kill stayed sharp, but an offensive-zone faceoff for the Preds with seconds left in the first period, and some great passing by the Preds’ offense, set Mattias Ekholm up for a buzzer-beating goal to give the Preds a lead heading into intermission.

Colton Sissons took an early penalty in the second, but Granlund drew another penalty while shorthanded, this one by Evgeni Malkin. Then it was Luke Kunin heading to the sin bin,  and the Preds penalty kill tested again. They were once again able to kill off the penalty, with some help from the crossbar on a Letang shot, but as they began to try to wrest control of the game back, Jake Guentzel scored off a faceoff to tie the game 1-1.

However, the Preds responded well, with Tanner Jeannot scoring a couple of shifts later and Eeli Tolvanen following him a couple of shifts after that, giving the Preds their lead back and then extending it. With less than two minutes left in the period, Alexandre Carrier was called for hooking. Jeannot got a shorthanded breakaway, but DeSmith made the save.

On the penalty kill, Mattias Ekholm also yielded to temptation, taking a whack at Guentzel, and fortunately for the Preds Guentzel retaliated, meaning coincidental minors were called. Josi and Fabbro were put to work shorthanded, but as the period ended the Penguins accidentally cleared their own puck.

The teams returned to five a side without further scoring, but two minutes into the third Dominik Simon took a slashing penalty of his own. The Preds were unable to score on the power play, and Simon got the puck as he left the penalty box, forcing the Preds to scramble in the defensive zone for what felt like a very long time. Tolvanen finally got the clear, and the Preds were able to breathe.

In the middle of another Penguins offensive push, Kris Letang tripped Jeannot, sending the Preds back to the power play. While the Penguins’ penalty kill is excellent, and was able to hold firm in this case as well, this is a bold strategy long-term.

With half the third period still remaining, Kasperi Kapanen got a great pass and went streaking down ice, but Saros made an even better save to hold the Preds’ lead. Saros was tested several more times as the period continued and the Penguins attacked relentlessly; the Preds struggled to get out of their own zone, though they were gifted another opportunity to do so when Bryan Rust took a penalty with 4:21 remaining in the period.

Again the Preds struggled to match the Penguins’ urgency, and gave up some shorthanded offensive zone time in the process, but as the penalty expired and the Penguins returned to full strength they pulled DeSmith for the extra attacker. Some smart passing and playmaking by the Preds set up Yakov Trenin for an empty-net goal, with Josi recording his third assist of the night.

With DeSmith back in the net, the Penguins went back on the attack, but without some of the ferocity that had marked their play earlier. Philip Tomasino briefly got back into the Penguins’ zone, but was unable to get the shot past DeSmith. The clock ran out with a 4-1 win for the Preds.

OTF’s Stars of the Game

3. Colton Sissons — solid work on the power play in addition to what’s more usually considered his role.

2. Roman Josi — one of the better defensive performances by a Preds skater tonight, combined with a great offensive performance and three assists.

1. Juuse Saros — the Preds got absolutely caved in by pretty much any metric you want to look at, especially in the third period, but Saros got them the win.