The Nashville Predators continued to show signs of turning the corner as they played their most complete game of the year beating the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 at the Bell Centre on Thursday night.
Excluding the second period of Tuesday’s game in Toronto when they gave up four power play goals, the Predators have played solid hockey for four straight games after losing five in a row.
Marcel Goc scored two goals and Cal O’Reilly added Nashville’s second goal against the NHL’s second toughest team to score against in the season thus far. Francis Bouillon and Kevin Klein each had two assists while Steve Sullivan and Patric Hornqvist each had one assist.
Pekka Rinne was sharp in nest stopping all 30 Montreal shots for his sixteenth career shutout and the second of this season. He was aided by a strong defensive effort around the net with many rebounds being cleared, allowing the Habs few second chances. It was Rinne’s second consecutive shutout against Montreal.
Carey Price did not have a bad game but was surprised by both of the Goc goals and his defense did little to stop O’Reilly on his unencumbered move to the net.
The big question heading into the game was how the Predators would recover from the nightmarish collapse in the last game. The answer came early as the contest started with plenty of energy from both teams and the Preds showed no sign of a hangover from Tuesday’s loss.
P.K. Subban showed his rugged side that Mike Richards did not like when he collided with Jordin Tootoo at 7:48 that brought the crowd to their feet.
The Preds peppered Price repeatedly and may have had their best scoring chance of the period at 12:44 when Patric Hornqvist had back to back shots from point blank range but Price was on fire.
Predator fans gave out a collective groan at 13:52 when Roman Hamrlik crushed David Legwand into the side board and Leggy left the ice and headed straight for the dressing room. He was unable to return from what was discribed as a “lower body injury.”
For the most part, the referees swallowed their whistles in the period. The first penalty of the game was at 17:50 when Segei Kostitsyn gave the Montreal crowd a good chance to boo him when he tripped up Josh Gorges in the corner of the Habs’ zone. The Preds held the Habs to one shot and killed their man advantage.
After 20 minutes, the Preds outshot the Habs, 16-9.
The Predators jumped out to a 1-0 lead at 1:19 in the second period when Bouillon centered a pass to Goc who was in front of the Habs net and backhanded the puck past Price in a nice spin move to get his second goal in two games.
The Predators put the Habs on the power play at 5:28 when Cody Franson was called for a phantom high stick on Lars Eller. Sullivan gave the Habs 28 seconds of 5-on-3 hockey when he was called for tripping Andrei Kostitsyn at 7:00. Unlike the last game, the Preds held firm, allowing only one shot in the entire penalty kill sequence.
At 11:00, deja vu started to set in for the Preds when Joel Ward flipped the puck over the glass and was sent to the box for delay of game. With 39 seconds left in the Habs man advantage Mike Cammalleri was called for interference on Ryan Suter. Neither team converted on their power play chances.
The pace continued for be fast and furious as the period wound down. Montreal outshot the Preds 12-5 in the second period as the Habs were much more active in the Nashville zone.
In the third period, Nashville went on the power play at 3:28 when Hamrlik was called for interfering with Tootoo. The Preds failed to score on three good scoring chances that yielded two shots.
Sullivan fired a cross ice pass to an opposite side net-crashing O’Reilly who shoveled it past Price at 8:55 to put the Preds ahead 2-0. The play was reviewed for a kicking motion but the goal stood.
At 11:17, Goc caught everyone in the building napping, including Price. Goc skated the puck out of the Preds zone through center ice and wristed a shot from near the blue line bast two defenders and the startled Price to give Nashville a 3-0 lead.
The Preds looked as if they had lost a second player at 17:47 when Jaroslav Spacek pushed the right skate out from under Hornqvist as he fell into the board and then crawled back to the bench. Spacek was called for tripping which put the Preds on the man advantage for all but 13 seconds of the remainder of the game. Fortunately, Hornqvist was able to reture for a shift before the game ended. Both teams had nine shots during the third and final stanza.
The three stars announcement was special for Bouillon who got the game’s third star and skated onto the ice to an appreciative sellout crowd. Rinne got the first star and Goc picked up the second.
The homecoming reception for Sergei Kostitsyn was not near as appreciative as the crowd booed loudly early each time he touched the puck.
The win was Barry Trotz’s 419 win of his career which tied him for sixth with Scotty Bowman on the league’s most wins with one team list.
The Preds hit the town after the game and will stay over and practice in Montreal before heading to Raleigh Friday afternoon. The Hurricanes will play at Pittsburgh on Friday before returning home to host the Predators in a 6 p.m. game Saturday that will not be televised by any outlets.