Whenever you lose two key forwards in a game against a team as good and as talented as Vancouver, it can be difficult to keep pace.
That wasn’t the case, however, for the Nashville Predators Thursday night.
Barry Trotz’s club overcame the loss of Steve Sullivan and Marcel Goc, ending up with a gutsy 3-1 win over the league-leading Canucks in front of an energetic crowd in Nashville.
Pekka Rinne made 35 saves against the high-powered Canucks – most under siege – to continue his pursuit of the Vezina Trophy. Newcomer Mike Fisher also chipped in with his first goal as a Predator.
The first period went by without much commotion. Nashville had an early power play chance and Vancouver two of their own later on in the period, but neither could convert on the opportunities. Fisher left midway through the period after taking a Ryan Suter slap-shot to the face, but returned later in the game.
Martin Erat got the Preds on the board first when he scored off his own rebound with 5:47 remaining in the second. But the fireworks were just beginning.
With 1:45 to go in the middle stanza, Daniel Sedin cashed in on the team’s fourth power play chance with a wrister from the circle. It was Daniel’s 30th of the season, assisted by brother Henrik and Christian Ehrhoff. Just seven seconds later, though, Nick Spaling responded when he roofed the puck backhanded past Roberto Luongo, courtesy of a feed from Patric Hornqvist, at 18:22 of the period.
Fisher extended Nashville’s lead to 3-1 when he deflected home a slapper from Alexander Sulzer with 49 seconds left.
“Sulzer made a great play getting the puck to the net and I was just peeling around and got a stick on it,” Fisher said about his goal. “I was pretty happy to get that one, for sure.”
Overall, it was a crazy flurry, with three goals being scored in a 56-second span. The two late goals were the turning point in the game for the Preds – especially on the heels of Vancouver’s tally.
“Responding that first shift right after (their) goal was huge,” Trotz said. “We kept the momentum … Fish got the tip-in and that was huge going into the third period.”
Vancouver didn’t give up in the third period, but Rinne was there to close the door every time to finish off a huge 3-1 victory for the Preds.
Even though the Preds were outshot 36-26 in the game, they outworked the Canucks most of the night to pick up two points in a jam-packed Western Conference.
The Preds’ penalty kill stepped up in a big way tonight. The calls weren’t going their way, but they persevered. Vancouver did score once on the man advantage, but went 1-for-5 and have the best unit on the road in the NHL. Nashville was able to keep them in check, and that made a difference when the game was still close.
“(We had) a lot of hard work and great goaltending,” Jerred Smithson said about the penalty kill. “Guys were willing to sacrifice and block shots. It was just a great overall effort by everyone.”
“Our penalty kill did a great job tonight,” Rinne said. “It’s been one of our keys for the whole season.”
All game long, the defense didn’t allow many second-chance opportunities to this dangerous Canucks club.
“They did a good job of staying on the puck,” Trotz said. “There are games when we drift or we stand. We closed the space a little bit better and that’s something we’ve been talking about.”
Injuries to Sullivan and Goc dampened the mood a bit after the game. Sullivan was taken to the hospital to get looked at after he took a bouncing puck to the face; the injury is not to his eye, according to Trotz. Goc was seen with his arm in a sling after the game and is doubtful for Saturday’s game.
There will most likely be a different lineup when the Preds host the Coyotes in a big game over the weekend. But this resilient bunch has been through it before and will keep chugging in this exciting race to the finish.