Nashville Predators 6, Florida Panthers 4: Preds find lost resilience, snap skid

A great night for some players who needed one, and a huge win for morale.

The Nashville Predators took the ice tonight against the Florida Panthers, hoping to get back on the right track before returning home.

It didn’t start well. The Panthers ran away with the puck early, establishing themselves in the Preds’ zone and peppering David Rittich with shots. Amidst the flurry, Mikael Granlund committed a holding penalty, and once the Panthers got set up on the ensuing power play Sam Reinhart was able to score to put his team up 1-0.

When the teams returned to even strength, there was a stretch where neither team was able to establish anything offensively; the Preds were the ones to emerge from that mire successfully, and Filip Forsberg put the team on his back and scored on his line’s third attempt within a few seconds to tie the game 1-1.

The Panthers were almost able to retaliate on the following shift, but Rittich made a pair of big stops to keep the game tied, and a few minutes after that Aleksander Barkov interfered with Mattias Ekholm and was called for the infraction. An early broken stick for Roman Josi was a pretty good preview for the rest of the power play, as they couldn’t get anything set up, then gave up a shorthanded chance, then iced the puck trying to recover.

The back-and-forth pace slowed again as the period continued. With less than two minutes to go in the first, Philip Tomasino found himself alone in front of the Panthers’ net with the puck, but Sergei Bobrovsky was up for the challenge. The teams traded chances once more, but intermission arrived with the score still 1-1.

Early in the second, Radko Gudas restored the Panthers’ lead with a perfectly laser-guided shot that went through a four- or five-layered screen to make it past Rittich. The Preds didn’t manage to respond, stuck in their own zone as the Panthers continued to press. Rittich made a few impressive saves on Sam Bennett, which seemed to give the Preds a spark of life.

While Eeli Tolvanen was the one to clear the puck safely—and successfully, after an earlier Preds icing—it was the Herd line that made Bobrovsky work. The Panthers went back on the attack after that, though, until a hand pass right around TV timeout time gave the Preds a much-needed breather.

The Preds made it to the Panthers’ zone before losing the puck; Barkov and Aaron Ekblad streaked back down the ice with Granlund one of the two players back—the Panthers overpassed, bailing the Preds out on the chance, but not long after that Ekblad got another chance and did not overpass it. The shot went off the post and in, putting the Panthers up 3-1 with just over half the game remaining.

The next minute and change were filled with a barrage of Panthers chances, right up until Roman Josi scored on the counterattack to bring the Preds back within one. Matt Duchene added his second primary assist of the game. The shift after that Yakov Trenin scored with a spectacular show of determination to erase the deficit and tie the game 3-3.

An Eetu Luostarinen hit on Josi prompted a retaliatory cross-check from Ryan Johansen, but play continued at 5v5. Mackenzie Weegar was the next player to get called for a penalty, not long after, putting the Preds on the power play.

However, the first chance of the power play was actually Barkov, on a shorthanded breakaway after he collected a shot he blocked himself. Rittich made a perfect save and the Preds went back on the attack, but were unable to capitalize. With 3:14 left in the second, one of the Preds skaters passed up the ice and into a line change, giving them a bench minor for too many men and giving the Panthers a power play.

Rittich made several more huge saves early in the penalty kill, including a sequence where he was sprawled full length on the ice as we all bit our nails hoping for a whistle. The Preds were able to kill the penalty, and escaped to the second intermission with the game still tied 3-3.

Once again, the Panthers came out strong to start the period, keeping the Preds well out of the zone for the first five or so minutes. Again, after that, the Preds seemed to get their skates under them a little better, though they were still struggling to get shots on net.

And, once again, this caught up to them, as Sam Bennett scored in a netfront scramble. There was some initial uncertainty about the goal’s legitimacy, but the “intent to blow” announcement I was half-expecting didn’t come, and Bennett was given credit for the go-ahead goal. Johansen seemed to respond fourteen seconds later, but the Panthers challenged for goalie interference by Luke Kunin, and won their challenge. The score remained 4-3 Panthers.

Alexandre Carrier was then called for cross-checking—a late call, not made until after the arena’s outrage had become audible. It definitely was a cross-check, but I don’t love the referee only calling it because the fans wanted the call. However, Tanner Jeannot scored shorthanded—the Preds’ first shorthanded goal of the season—to tie the game at 4, this time for real, with around a minute left in the penalty to Carrier and nine left in the period.

The Preds were able to kill off the penalty, and shortly after that a Bennett cross-check gave them another power play. Granlund scored, and the Preds got their first lead of the game, with 5:31 remaining in the period.

It was going to be a long, long five and a half minutes. The Panthers went back on the attack immediately, hemming the Preds in with an offensive push so strong it felt like they had already pulled Bobrovsky. An exhausted Preds unit iced the puck, then got a much-needed offside whistle as Granlund finally managed to get the puck over the line and the Panthers didn’t respond in time.

With over three and a quarter minutes to go, the Panthers did pull Bobrovsky, putting on an absolute puck possession clinic and trapping an exhausted Preds group in their own zone. With 1:32 remaining in the period Jeannot scored into the empty net, giving the Preds another cushion. Undaunted, the Panthers pulled Bobrovsky at their next OZ possession, still pushing to tie the game.

Rittich stopped a puck with his mask, the Preds resorted to some icing, and the Preds managed to pull out a win against the grain and in some very tough circumstances.

OTF’s Three Stars of the Game

3. Matt Duchene — Had some good looks himself, as well as setting up the Preds’ first two goals.

2. Filip Forsberg — That first goal was a much-missed flash of the Prince in the South, and he added two assists to his production on the night as well, including some very nice setup on Granlund’s game-winning goal.

1. Tanner Jeannot — His shorthanded goal would have been big at any time, but right after the Johansen goal was overturned? Massive. Great work.

Honorable mention: David Rittich, who made 44 saves against the best offensive team in the league. I hesitate to give a star to a goalie who allows four goals (though I’d do it if the skaters just didn’t do anything), but the Preds scored their last three of the night very much against the flow of play, and Rittich for sure deserves credit for keeping them in it enough to win.