It was a tale of two periods as the Nashville Predators dominated the first period, playing one of the best twenty minutes of the year followed by one of the worst periods in franchise history in the second. The Leafs’ 5-4 victory does not reflect the roller-coaster ride that the game entailed.
The Predators led 3-0 in the first period and gave up a late goal to finish the first period ahead, 3-1. In the second period the Preds committed six penalties and gave up four power play goals, two of which were on the five on three, leading to a Leafs 5-4 lead. There was no further scoring in the final period. The victory ended Toronto’s eight game losing streak and preserved head coach Ron Wilson’s job for the time being.
The Leafs got two power play goals from Kris Versteeg that were less than a minute apart. Luke Schenn and Mikhail Grabovski each tallied a goal of their own, while Nikolai Kulemin netted the game-winner in the third period. Clarke MacArthur had three consecutive assists in the second period, while both Phil Kessel and Tomas Kaberle had two assists.
The Predators received goals from J.P. Dumont, Jordin Tootoo, Marty Erat, and Marcel Goc. David Legwand had two assists.
J.S. Giguere stopped 24 of 28 to get the win but required a save from Jonas Gustavsson who played the final 13 minutes and stopped all six shots that he faced. Pekka Rinne took the loss stopping 28 of 33 shots playing behind a poor second period defensive effort in front of him.
The game stared with plenty of energy by both teams with no thoughts of the fiasco to follow. The Predators struck first at 8:13, when Ryan Suter picked off a clearing pass near the blue line and passed it to Legwand who backhanded a pass to a wide open Dumont, who buried the puck in the net to give the Preds a 1-0 lead. After another Toronto turnover, Tootoo skated right through Keith Aulie to put a shot past Giguere to put the Preds ahead, 2-0, at 11:33.
Toronto called a time out to settle the team down. It was to no avail as ten seconds later the puck went into the Toronto zone and Grabovski made a horrible pass in front of the Leafs net to a waiting Erat who snapped it past Giguere to make it 3-0. The second goal in ten seconds was the fastest ever in a road game for the Predators. At this point, Wilson’s career with the Leafs was not looking very safe as was reflected in the painful look on his face.
As time wound down, the Predators lost focus and gave up a late goal to Schenn with 30 seconds left in the period. For the first period the Preds lead in shots, 12-11.
In the second period, the Predators put the Leafs on the power play at 3:32 when Francis Bouillion was called for holding. At 4:41, Brett Lebda lost control of the puck near the Preds blue line and Goc grabbed the puck and took it all the way down the ice and put it past Giguere to give the Preds a 4-1 lead.
The Leafs remained on the man advantage and before the Bouillon penalty expired, Suter was called for slashing at 5:17 to give the Leafs 15 seconds of five-on-three hockey. Then just four seconds after the first penalty expired, Kevin Klein flipped the puck over the glass to give the Leafs another two-man advantage at 5:36.
At 6:22, Versteeg put the puck into the net from the high slot for his first power-play goal to make it 4-2. After Suter came out of the box, he was called for hooking at 7:09 to give the Leafs another five on three. Twelve seconds later, Versteeg scored on the man advantage again from the right circle to make it 4-3.
The Predators got a brief respite from the assault and got a break at 11:16 when Toronto scored again but it was waived off by the officials when Mike Brown interfered with Rinne’s stick.
The meltdown continued when Patric Hornqvist interfered with Giguere at 13:12 to put the Leafs back on the man advantage. At 14:21 Grabovski made up for his earlier turnover by double-deeking in front of Rinne and then putting the puck in the net.
The Leafs weren’t done with their miraculous run. Joel Ward was called for hooking at 16:28 and sixteen seconds later Kulemin put the puck past Rinne to put the Leafs ahead for the first time in the game 5-4.
For the period, the Preds took six penalties and gave up four power-play goals. The Leafs led in shots, 17-8, 14 of which came on the power play.
The Predators got their first chance on the power play at 4:32 in the third period when Schenn was called for hooking. The Preds managed three shots but no goals.
During a TV time out at 6:50 Giguere had to leave the game due to injury and was replaced by Gustavsson. Almost immediately at 7:17, Jerred Smithson slashed Kulemin to put the Leafs on their seventh power play opportunity. They only managed one shot on the man advantage.
The Preds returned to the man advantage at 11:48 when MacArthur flipped the puck over the glass. The Predators kept pressure on the Leafs firing repeatedly at the net but were unable to convert and officially were credited with one shot.
The game was still in question until Weber hooked Versteeg with twelve seconds left to take away the goalie-pull man advantage and end the Predators’ chance to tie the game.
In the third period, the Predators led in shots, 14-5, as they desperately tried to tie the game.
In a statistical oddity, because of all the power play goals, no Predator was a minus for the game while eight Leafs were negative including minus fours by Grabovski and MacArthur.
The Predators will stay in Toronto tonight and practice there tomorrow before traveling to Montreal later in the day to prepare for Thursday’s match with the Habs.